Ex-Gorman star committed to achieve

Last week I met DeMarco Murray, the outstanding Oklahoma running back by way of Bishop Gorman High School, for the first time. When I shook his hand, I was careful not to exert too much pressure or catch his finger with my wedding ring. With his luck, it might have popped a tendon.

DeMarco Murray is probably the best college football running back Las Vegas has ever produced. He also is turning out to be injury prone. At least that’s what NFL scouts mumble under their breath.

Murray has excellent speed and vision. He can catch the football. Perhaps he’ll have to add another 15 pounds to his 6-foot-1-inch, 195-pound frame to run between the tackles in the NFL. But the rest of the tools are in the box.

He talked about coming out early for the 2010 draft. Those scouts told him he would be a third-round pick, at worst. But if he returned to Oklahoma for his senior season — and completed it without being injured — he’ll likely be the first or second running back selected in 2011.

In three years at Oklahoma, Murray has run for 2,471 yards and 35 touchdowns, impressive numbers for a guy who has yet to complete a season without being injured.

His redshirt freshman year, it was a knee. His sophomore year, it was a hamstring. Both of those came toward the end of the year and required surgery. In 2009, it was a midseason ankle injury that limited him to 749 rushing yards and seven touchdowns after he had run for 1,220 and 20 as a sophomore.

Last month, he said he was going back to school, back to Norman, back to Oklahoma and the Sooner Nation where his jersey No. 7 is more prevalent than the toll plazas on the Will Rogers Turnpike.

“When I went to visit him,” longtime friend Danny Wadhams says, “I was the second-most popular guy on campus.”

Part of the reason Murray is returning for his senior season is that he is on schedule to graduate this summer. That’s important to his mother, Lorraine Travis. The other part is that with Chris Brown gone, he won’t have to share carries anymore. Like Steve Owens, Greg Pruitt, Joe Washington, Billy Sims, Marcus Dupree and Adrian Peterson before him, he will be the go-to guy, the featured running back in the vaunted Oklahoma attack. That’s like being first trombone of the 76 that lead the big parade.

But he knows in the back of his mind if he can’t stay healthy, he’ll be back with the 110 cornets close at hand.

“It’s hard for me to deal with injuries,” Murray said as we waited for our order at Broadway Pizza. “I never sprained an ankle or hurt a pinkie in high school.”

He doesn’t believe he is injury prone, so he is placing his football-playing future in the hands of a higher authority. No, not Barry Switzer.

“I’ve had a couple of injuries, you know, but I think it’s all part of God’s plan,” he said.

Deeply talented, deeply committed, deeply spiritual. That pretty much describes DeMarco Murray. He wears a yellow Livestrong Lance Armstrong bracelets on one wrist and a red one that says “Proverbs 27:17” on the other.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

That, and yoga, will have to get him by. That’s right, yoga. Murray has spoken to trainers and physical therapists who suggested he become more flexible. Yoga makes one flexible, Murray said. I told him it’s also supposed to get one’s head together. He broke into laughter, showing the less solemn side of his personality. “Hopefully. I hope so. Yeah,” he said.

I immediately formed a mental image of someone such as Madonna or, better yet, George Harrison sitting in the lotus position, only to spring to his feet to take an option pitch from the quarterback, leaving tacklers strewn in his wake en route to a 75-yard touchdown run.

Better watch out, Texas and Oklahoma State. The Maharishi Murray is coming, and he’s breathing a lot easier. Meditate on that awhile. He says the knee and hamstring are completely well and the ankle is about 90 percent.

If that’s the case, my guitar gently weeps for you.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352.

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