How Kyler Murray Went From Chess Champion to the NFL's Next Big Thing
In less than a year’s time, Kyler Murray became a household name for doing things on a football field that have rarely been seen before, and achieving things off the field that have never been done before.
He was a first-round pick by the Oakland Athletics, won the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma and was the first overall pick of the 2019 NFL draft.
But most sports fans already know all those things about Murray. However, there are many things from his upbringing to his family to his athletic accomplishments that most people don't know.
Many of these things shaped Murray the man and Murray the athlete, and helped him get to where he’s at today. We explore what makes him one of the the most interesting athletes in the world.
As a Kid, Kyler Murray Was a Chess Champion.
Before Murray was a football or baseball star, he was a chess champion in elementary school. He won his school’s chess championship twice, in fourth and fifth grade, after a teacher advised him to try other things besides sports.
Murray also finds parallels between playing football and playing chess as he equates being aware of all of his chess opponents' pieces as to being aware of all 11 defenders on the football field.
Also, don’t try him at Uno or Connect Four. He says he always beat his older relatives in those game as a kid also.
Murray Earned an A+ in High School Football.
Murray was a two-time Academic All-Big 12 honoree while at Oklahoma, so he’s a pretty bright guy. But no matter what grades he got in Norman, nothing will top the perfect grade he got in high school football.
At Allen High in Texas, he started 42 games at quarterback and won all 42 games. Allen High became the first school in Texas history to win the state championship three years in a row in the state’s largest classification.
Under Armour Loves Him, but Murray's a Nike Guy.
Almost five years before Murray became the first player to be a first-round pick by both MLB and the NFL, he accomplished another first for a multi-sport athlete.
At the start of his senior year in high school, Murray played in the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game in Chicago. Then, just five months later, Murray played in the Under Armour All-America Football Game in Tampa. Thus, he became the first athlete to ever play in both games, although three more have accomplished the feat since then.
However, Under Armour’s love for Murray didn’t do them any good when it came time to sign an endorsement deal as Murray hooked up with Nike just before the NFL draft.
That's another win for the swoosh. "I want to be the best to ever play the game," Murray said at the end of his first Nike commercial.
You Can Call Him Mr. Football Football.
Every state awards a "Mr. Football" award to the best high school player in the state. And as depicted in "Friday Night Lights," there is no state that loves high school football more than Texas. So Murray being named Mr. Football in Texas in 2013 was quite the achievement.
Others like Johnny Manziel and Jacquizz Rodgers had preceded Murray as Mr. Football. But Murray didn’t just stop with one Mr. Football award — he won it as both a junior and a senior.
Murray remains the only two-time Mr. Football winner, and he won the honor while playing in Texas' largest state classification.
He Almost Was an Oregon Duck.
Since Murray ended his college career at Oklahoma, most would assume that his initial college choice came down between OU and Texas A&M. But Murray was debating between the Aggies and the Oregon Ducks when coming out of high school.
He was intrigued at the idea of replacing Marcus Mariota since the two have similar abilities as dual-threat quarterbacks. Murray was recruited by Oregon’s offensive coordinator Scott Frost, who later became the head coach of Central Florida and then Nebraska.
In the end, Murray chose his dad’s alma mater, Texas A&M, before transferring to Oklahoma.
Murray Shares a Record With Cam Newton.
Murray’s stay at Texas A&M was short, and impactful.
In his first career college start, as a true freshman against South Carolina in 2015, Murray passed for 223 yards and one touchdown while also running for 156 yards and one score. That put him in elite company, joining Cam Newton as the only SEC players in the last 20 years to have 100-plus passing and rushing yards and scores through both the air and on the ground in their first career starts.
That was the highest point on the football field for Murray in College Station. A few weeks later, he announced his decision to transfer.
Murray’s a Fan of the Notorious One.
If you’ve ever heard a Murray interview, you would notice that he’s soft-spoken and doesn’t display much personality. However, he is a huge fan of a fellow athlete who is the exact opposite of Murray: Conor McGregor.
Murray loves the notorious MMA fighter, and after McGregor’s victory at UFC 194, Murray posted social media captions that read "AND NEW! @TheNotoriousMMA Toooooo easy!" and "Bad dude… #Notorious."
Outside of being athletes, there’s not many similarities between Murray and McGregor except that they both threw passes in the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. Murray’s last high school game was at the stadium while McGregor had one of the worst football passes in history there in 2018.
Nick Saban Is Impressed With Murray's Quarterback Skills.
With six national championships, many consider Nick Saban to be the greatest college coach of all time. He may be nicknamed "St. Nick," but this St. Nick doesn’t generously give out compliments like the other St. Nick gives out presents.
So to to hear Saban gush about Murray after the 2018 season was meaningful. After Saban’s Crimson Tide defeated Murray and Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, Saban had nothing but nice things to say about the quarterback.
"I think he’s a very dynamic player. Probably the most difficult player to defend that we played against all year," Saban said. "We played against some really good players. I think, [Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence] is really, really a good player. But when you’re talking about a guy that is an effective passer and has the quickness and speed and versatility of Kyler Murray, it is really, really hard on your defense."
Murray Has His Own Sense of Style.
When college football players arrive to a stadium, they make a walk from the bus to the locker room in which they high-five and greet their fans. Murray also uses this walk as his personal runway to show off his fashion. He’s worn a kimono jacket in the past, which honors his Asian heritage, and he always makes sure he’s color-coordinated.
Matching isn’t something that’s a new notion for Murray. His mother says he’s been like that since he was a kid. She says before school every day Murray would re-lace his Nike sneakers to make sure the color of the laces matched his outfit.
"This is a kid that when he was 5 and 6, his toys in his room were color-coordinated," Missy Murray said. "All his Power Rangers, all the red ones were together, all the white ones were together. That was me, so he grew up learning that."
Murray Can Beat Opponents on the Ground or by Air.
Tim Tebow, Vince Young, Lamar Jackson, Eric Crouch, Colin Kaepernick, Deshaun Watson. All of these football players were prolific college quarterbacks who could also kill you with their legs. But no one in the history of college football has been as productive as Murray on both the ground and through the air.
In the 2018 season, Murray became the first player in FBS history to average at least 300 passing yards and 60 rushing yards per game. He joined Watson as the only FBS players to record at least 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season, and Murray did it with both a higher completion percentage and rushing average than Watson.
He Still Has His Flaws.
As seems to be the case in this day and age, some people on social media with nothing better to do decided to dig up some of Murray’s old tweets. Some of these old tweets contained homophobic language that Murray had posted when he was 14 and 15.
The timing of someone digging up these tweets wasn’t coincidental. They were made public just hours after Murray won the Heisman award. As a result, Murray spent the morning after getting his Heisman apologizing for his tweets from seven years prior.
Murray Already Has Done Something Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders Never Did.
Bo Jackson is the only athlete to be an All-Star in both baseball and football while Deion Sanders is the only athlete to play in the World Series and the Super Bowl.
However, neither of those two iconic athletes ever did what Kyler Murray did when he became the first and only person selected in the first rounds of the MLB and NFL drafts.
But the firsts don’t stop there for Murray. He went first overall in the 2019 NFL draft one year after Baker Mayfield went first overall in the 2018 draft.
That marked the first time in history that two quarterbacks from the same school went in the first round in successive drafts, let alone as first picks.
Murray Understands Nothing in Life Is Free.
Drafted ninth overall by the Oakland Athletics in 2018, Murray received a $4.66 million signing bonus with $1.5 million of that upfront. However, when he turned his back on baseball to stick with football, he had to pay back that signing bonus.
But not all of it. He had to return $1.29 million of the $1.5 million initial payment, and the A’s also kept the other $3.16 million he was due to receive.
In other words, for signing his name on an MLB contract, Murray walked away with $210,000 while the Athletics saved $4.45 million.
Betting on Himself Increased Murray's Earnings by 500 Percent.
After signing a contract with the Oakland Athletics at 20 years old that would have guaranteed him $4.66 million, Murray left the door open for football during his 2018 season with Oklahoma, though most didn’t expect him to get more money playing football than baseball.
Murray received Russell Wilson comparisons, and Wilson was a third-round draft pick who had a $619,400 signing bonus. The only way Murray would have received an NFL signing bonus greater than his $4.66 million MLB one was if he was a first-round pick since the No. 32 draft pick got a $5.36 million signing bonus.
Murray, of course, was more than just a first-rounder. The No. 1 overall pick netted him a $23.5 million signing bonus, which means betting on his football ability increased Murray’s earnings by over 500 percent.
Murray Learned a Lot From Baker Mayfield.
Imagine winning the Heisman Trophy and setting several school and FBS records along the way, and then saying that the guy replacing you was going to be even better than you were.
That seems blasphemous, but that’s exactly what happened when Baker Mayfield said that Murray was "going to break all my records" before the 2018 season had even begun. Murray proved Mayfield to be prophetic and contends he wouldn’t have had the success he had without learning from Mayfield.
"No competitor wants to sit for the time that I did, but I don’t think I would be here right now or playing the way that I am if I didn’t get to see how it’s done and watch him doing his thing," Murray said of Mayfield.
Size Doesn't Matter With Murray.
At 5 feet, 10 inches Murray has the height of a running back but is about half-a-foot shorter than the average quarterback.
There have been successful sub-6 feet quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Sonny Jurgensen, but they were mid-round picks. Murray became the second shortest first-round quarterback selected in NFL history, trailing only 5-foot, -inch Davey O’Brien, who played before World War II.
In terms of quarterbacks selected first overall, 35 sent before Murray, and their average height was 6 feet, 3 inches. Murray is now tied for the shortest-ever quarterback drafted first overall with Boley Dancewicz, the first pick in the 1946 draft.
Murray's Father Also Was a Football and Baseball Star.
Kyler isn’t the only multi-sport athlete in his family. His father Kevin was a star quarterback at Texas A&M and was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers as a center fielder.
Kevin became the Southwest Conference’s all-time touchdown leader while in College Station and broke most of Texas A&M’s passing records. In the 1986 Cotton Bowl, he led the Aggies to a win over Auburn and Heisman winner Bo Jackson in his final college game. Murray was later inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame.
As for his baseball prowess, Murray was an 11th-round pick by the Brewers out of high school and played one year in their minor league system before concentrating solely on football.
Although Murray Chose Football, He Has a Connection to Randy Johnson.
Who knew that Kyler Murray has a tie to one of the most infamous plays in Major League Baseball history?
In a 2001 spring training game, Randy Johnson threw a pitch that struck a bird on its way to the plate. The bird "exploded" as it then fell to the ground amid a sea of feathers.
While most people remember Johnson as the pitcher of that play, they don’t realize that the hitter was Calvin Murray, Kyler’s uncle. Calvin played in the big leagues for five seasons and, like his nephew, was a first-round MLB draft pick.
Murray's Contract With the Cardinals Contains a Baseball Provision.
While the Athletics are disappointed that Kyler Murray chose football over baseball, they don’t appear to be going the same route as the Brewers did with Kevin Murray.
After Kevin left baseball for football, the Brewers sued him and said he reneged on his $35,000 signing bonus. They sought an injunction to prevent Kevin from playing football for Texas A&M, but a judge ruled in Murray’s favor, and he was allowed to keep playing football.
For what it’s worth, Kyler Murray’s contract with the Arizona Cardinals contains a provision that if Murray decides he wants to go back to baseball, his future guarantees will be voided.
Murray Will Not Just Stick to Sports.
In the literal sense, Murray is "more than just an athlete" as he’s an all-around great quarterback. But in the figural sense, Murray is also "more than an athlete" as he showed with his outfit at the NFL draft.
Inside his suit jacket, Murray had "I am more than an athlete" emblazoned on one side and "Uninterrupted" on the other side. Uninterrupted is LeBron James' media brand, and Murray signed a deal with them to produce content — content that has more to do with sports and being an athlete.
Get ready. The Kyler Murray story is just getting started.