Locals find life’s OK at Oklahoma

DeMarco Murray and Ryan Reynolds always dreamed of playing on Saturday afternoons.

The two former Bishop Gorman standouts never imagined it could be quite this good.

Murray and Reynolds are teammates again and making significant contributions for sixth-ranked Oklahoma. Their former high school coach, Dave White, is a graduate assistant for the Sooners.

"It was always just a dream," said Reynolds, a sophomore linebacker and a 2005 Gorman graduate. "I’m glad I’m being able to live it out. It’s just a matter of trying to improve each week and be a better player."

Reynolds starts at weakside linebacker and made 15 tackles two weeks ago against Colorado. On Saturday he was in on six tackles in a 28-21 victory over archrival Texas.

Murray, a redshirt freshman running back and a 2006 Gorman grad, is the Sooners’ leading scorer with 10 touchdowns and has seen time as a receiver and kick returner.

Against the Longhorns, Murray was the game’s leading rusher with 128 yards, including a 65-yard TD.

"I’m really surprised," Murray said. "I didn’t think I’d play this much this early in my career. It’s a great opportunity."

A small percentage of high school athletes ever move on to play any sport at the Division I level. Even fewer are ever in the national spotlight. While major college football programs can offer 85 scholarships each year, only about 50 to 60 of those players see significant time. To have two from the same high school contributing for a top-10 team is rare, at best.

"It helps us a lot," Murray said of the connection. "Ryan is a great friend and we hang out a lot."

Still, the climb up the college football mountain hasn’t been easy for either player.

 

RYAN’S HOPE

Reynolds was the first of the players to leave Gorman, choosing Oklahoma over UCLA and Wisconsin.

He played in eight games as a true freshman, mostly on special teams, but missed last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

"It was hard, especially after having had so much success," Reynolds said. "The team was winning and I felt like I wasn’t a part of it. I was sitting and watching my friends do all of the work."

Reynolds was finally cleared to practice in the winter, but soon after tore a ligament in his left knee. He returned to the team just prior to preseason workouts.

"I’m not 100 percent yet," he said. "I’m still trying to improve."

That’s a scary thought for Big 12 Conference offenses. Still wearing knee braces for support and to prevent further injury, Reynolds is second on the Sooners with 44 tackles, including 71/2 tackles for losses and two sacks.

"Ryan is like a sponge when it comes to learning," said White, who works with Oklahoma’s defense. "He has become a real technician here. Ryan does everything 100 miles an hour.

"He has always been a tough football player, but since he has gotten here, I’ve seen that improve. He hurt his arm and his knee is banged up and he’s still out there getting in on tackles."

Reynolds is one of only three sophomores who sees significant playing time on Oklahoma’s defense. The Sooners start five seniors and three juniors.

"At Oklahoma, when they play a true freshman, it’s because he’s awfully good," said Gil Brandt, an NFL Draft guru and the former longtime scouting director for the Dallas Cowboys. "He moves really well."

 

MAKING HIS ‘MARC’

Murray also sat out last season, the result of a severe case of turf toe that didn’t allow him to practice until midway through the year.

He used the year to learn more about the game and adjust to the faster pace.

"Getting injured last year really helped me out," he said. "But it was hard for me after playing so much in high school to have to watch everyone else."

All that pent-up energy came spilling out in the Sooners’ opener on Sept. 1 against North Texas when Murray scored five touchdowns in just over the first half of the game. He became the first player in Oklahoma history to score five TDs in his first game.

"That was a great experience, but I don’t really stop and think about it," Murray said. "I don’t hold onto those things for very long."

Murray is the team’s second-leading rusher with 444 yards on 67 carries — a 6.6 average.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has told stories of recruiting Murray simply by visiting Reynolds at Gorman. As the story goes, Stoops watched Murray dunk a basketball in the gym and was so impressed by the 6-foot junior’s athletic ability, he told White to make sure Murray knew there would be a scholarship offer waiting.

The Sooners are using four running backs this year as they try to replace standout Adrian Peterson, the No. 7 pick in this year’s NFL Draft and an impressive rookie for the Minnesota Vikings.

"We know no one will ever be another Adrian Peterson," Murray said. "We’re not trying to be him. We can just try to step up and play hard and fill in some of what he did here."

So far Murray show potential to at least challenge Peterson’s lofty standard.

A former track star at Gorman, Murray already has a 92-yard touchdown run and returned a kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown against Tulsa. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds and has a vertical leap of 41 inches.

"This guy is Reggie Bush-like talented," Brandt said, referring to the New Orleans Saints’ former Heisman Trophy winner. "He’s the fastest guy on the team and probably the most athletic guy on the team."

 

BIG BROTHER

Both players benefit from having White at Oklahoma. The former Gorman coach joined the Sooner staff this year.

"It’s great having him up here," Reynolds said. "He’s a great friend and a great coach."

With both students roughly 1,000 miles from home, it can only help to have a familiar face nearby.

"It’ll end one day, but to see them grow from ninth-graders to now has been amazing," White said. "I’m so proud of them to be representing Bishop Gorman and Oklahoma."

The relationship extends well beyond the field, though. Murray, Reynolds and White spend time together at least every other week to catch a movie or watch tapes of the Ultimate Fighting Championships.

"They crack up at me because I’m really more excited than they are to be here and with them," White said. "We’re part of an elite program here and that’s something you realize. We are part of something really special."

 

ANOTHER LEVEL

Both Reynolds and Murray have plenty of time left at Oklahoma, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either make the jump to the NFL, though neither admits to thinking much about it.

"If the chance presents itself, I’ll certainly do it," Murray said. "I just want to be a good person and help our team win."

In a top-10 program of Oklahoma’s profile, both players will be extensively scouted. A handful of NFL scouts attends each game.

"When Oklahoma recruits outside of the state, they’re getting the absolute cream of the crop," Brandt said. "Bishop Gorman had two very, very good football players. Down the line, they both can be NFL players.

"Reynolds is the kind of person who would have a good chance in the NFL as a special teams player. Murray is a great athlete. He was also a top basketball recruit. I’m not saying he’s going to be the next Reggie Bush, but he reminds me so much of him. You put No. 5 on his back and people will think he’s Reggie Bush."

For now, though, all three are enjoying each moment of their time together.

"It’s really hard to explain to people who aren’t here," Reynolds said. "It’s amazing looking around and seeing the pictures on the wall of some of the great players who have been here and knowing you’re wearing that jersey and trying to help this program."

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