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Persevering In Western Kansas

Posted Mar 14, 2011

Once a blue-chip recruit, O.J. Murdock found his way to NFL consideration during an up-and-down collegiate journey that ended in Hays, Kansas

Fort Hays State WR O.J. Murdock knows he faces an uphill climb to reach the ultimate goal of playing NFL football. In many ways, Murdock is fighting two separate battles simultaneously, but the long odds aren’t intimidating. Murdock’s been on a wild five-year ride that has continually tested his resiliency.

On one hand, there are the character concerns that follow him.

Murdock must convince front office personnel that he’s worth a flier. A 2006 arrest, paired with academic issues, sent the former prep superstar from packed houses of Southeastern Conference football to the wind-battered flatland of western Kansas.

On the other hand, Murdock has to find a way to show scouts that he has something special. Why else would an NFL team choose to fill one of its roster slots with a player from Fort Hays State University when so many other prospects from BCS conferences are available?

Murdock’s pre-draft workouts are critical.

“This was a goal, but it became far-fetched,” Murdock said during the NFL Combine. “You just have to keep a goal in mind and worry about getting better during the next rep and the next practice. Eventually it will come to light if you keep working hard.”

Though he’s been trouble-free for several years and his criminal record has been expunged, Murdock’s past followed him to Indianapolis. Teams inquire about everything that happened during the bye weekend trip to Tampa that resulted in a shoplifting arrest.

Though the charges didn’t completely drain Murdock’s NFL hopes, they certainly made his path to primetime much more difficult. South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier suspended the promising redshirt freshman indefinitely and Murdock was eventually out the door.

“I tell teams everything about the situation,” says a matured Murdock. “I was young and dumb at 18/19 years old. The things we know now are things that we wish we would have known back then. You live and you learn, mature and make the best decisions the next time that you get an opportunity to.”

After his exit at South Carolina, Murdock went to Pearl River Community College in tiny Popularville, Mississippi. Playing football for the PRCC Wildcats was a much different experience than running out to the rabid fans of Williams-Brice Stadium, but the backyard football setting got Murdock back on track.

Despite playing in only two junior college games because of a broken collarbone, coaches at Marshall University took notice and it looked as if Murdock was ready to return to division one football once again.

Unfortunately, Murdock didn’t have the proper credits to complete his transfer and was ruled academically ineligible at Marshall. His scholarship offer was rescinded.

That’s when an old friend came calling.

Al McCray had witnessed Murdock shine as an assistant football coach at Middleton High School in Tampa. Murdock was the Tampa Tribune’s Male Athlete of the Year in 2005 and deemed a blue-chip prospect when Spurrier landed his commitment that year.

McCray now serves as the assistant head coach/wide receivers coach at Fort Hays State, a member of NCAA Division II football.

“I was really anxious,” Murdock said of his transfer to Hays. “The first 10 minutes that Coach McCray was driving, he almost hit a deer. I was thinking to myself, ‘I hope this isn’t an omen.’”

This wasn’t Florida, or SEC football, and Murdock realized as much on the long drive to Hays from Denver, Colorado. There really isn’t an easy way to get to Hays and the drive lacks scenery, but Murdock realized this was his final chance to reach goals that were set during what seemed to be the life of someone else.

This was it. Hays, Kansas marked the end of the road one way or another.

“I was just excited, anxious and nervous to meet the guys, wondering if I’d fit in and if I’d be the player that I was at South Carolina and in high school,” Murdock said.

As it turns out, Murdock still had the skills, minus the character issues.

He shined last season as a senior for the Tigers, hauling in 60 receptions for 1,290 yards and 12 touchdowns. The renaissance earned him postseason all-star invites to the Cactus Bowl as well as the East-West Shrine Game. Murdock was also one of just 46 wide receivers selected to participate in last month’s NFL Combine.

He received his combine invitation via email.

“I found out the day before I was going to the Cactus Bowl and I just broke down and started crying,” Murdock said. “I had to read the email like five times before I actually understood what it said. It was a surreal moment and that was probably one of the life-changing experiences in my life.

“My goal when I got to Hays was to compete and be the player that I always thought I would be. I never thought that this would come to light. I always had it in the back of my mind, coming to the combine. But to actually get that accomplishment really meant a lot.”

Murdock was hoping to run in the high 4.3’s in Indy, but turned in a 4.53 time in the 40-yard dash. He’ll have another opportunity to show his skills later this month when scouts head to Hays for Murdock’s Pro Day on March 24th.

The workout is something that Murdock’s younger brother, Sherod, will be able to witness. Sherod Murdock is a sophomore transfer to Hays via Pearl River CC and the University of Pittsburgh.

“Keeping that goal in mind, keeping your drive and staying hungry – hard work pays off eventually,” Murdock said. “It might not come tomorrow or the next month or even two months from now, but eventually something good will come your way if you work hard.”

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