MURPHY, Texas -- In order to understand the type of plays Kyler Murray is capable of, it’s probably best to examine the reactions of those who watch him.
Take Ty Holt, for example.
Holt is the 10-year-old ballboy for Allen High, two-time defending Texas 6A state champion. The Eagles (11-0) are led by Murray, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound quarterback ranked No. 3 nationally at his position who has committed to Texas A&M. As a sideline regular, Holt knows well the type of highlights Murray produces.
Two weeks ago against Plano East in the Eagles’ last regular-season game, Murray took the snap and watched the pocket collapse around him. He retreated almost 15 yards and, with defenders rushing from each edge, waited until they got within arm’s reach to duck between them. While the Plano East players smacked into each other, Murray popped up and went dancing downfield, dropping numerous would-be tacklers along the way. He gained only 10 yards, according to the stat sheet, but covered much more ground in a dazzling display of athleticism. While the Allen crowd “Oooh’d” and “Ahhh’d,” Holt dropped his jaw, pressed his hands to his cheeks and shouted to no one in particular, “Did you see that?!”
Jeff Fleener did. And it’s what he’s come to expect.
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“Kyler has that good, nobody-can-stop-me swagger,” says Fleener, Allen’s offensive coordinator. “Even if there’s someone standing in his way, Kyler’s attitude is, ‘I will make him miss to get this ball in the end zone.’”
In three seasons at Allen, the largest high school in Texas, Murray has thrown for 9,048 yards, completing 550-of-864 passes. He’s carried the ball 419 times for 3,494 yards and 62 touchdowns. Last week in Allen’s 59-21 win over Keller Central in the opening round of the Texas state playoffs, Murray threw six touchdowns to bring his career total to 101, a school record. But perhaps the most impressive stat for the Texas A&M commit is this: 38-0. That’s Murray’s record when he starts at Allen.
Allen’s last loss was Sept. 28, 2012, when a then-sophomore Murray split quarterbacking duties. He took over as the starter after that game and led the Eagles to two state titles. Murray’s quest to stay perfect continues Saturday when Allen meets DeSoto in the round of 32 of the state playoffs at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
In two prior games against DeSoto -- both of which propelled Allen into the championship -- Murray completed a combined 19-of-44 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 40 times for 259 yards and three touchdowns. The Dallas Morning News described Saturday’s game as “the highlight of November high school football,” a lofty title in a state that prides itself on prep football. Murray is sure to play a starring role.
“You’re not going to find anyone who plays with as much passion and emotion as Kyler,” Fleener says. “When he walks between the lines, he can flip the switch like nobody else I’ve ever been around.”
Fleener says the Eagles will go as Murray goes. And if Allen’s game against Plano East two weeks ago is any indication, it’ll go well if Murray gets a little mad.
After Murray disappeared between the two tacklers then re-appeared 10 yards downfield, he was brought down by a defender who made a point to slam Murray’s head into the turf after the play was blown dead. Murray had to be helped off the field while he furiously pointed and shouted at Plano East players who smirked at him. He stomped over to the sideline in his gold-bottomed cleats and A&M socks, fuming. When Murray went back in two plays later, he took the snap and took off for an 86-yard touchdown run. The score got called back for holding, but Murray later acknowledged the motivation.
“No doubt, that got me hyped,” he said of the helmet-slamming. “Overcoming adversity, that’s part of being great.”
It’s a lesson his father drilled into him the first time Kyler picked up a football.
Kevin Murray was a standout for the Aggies in the mid-80s as a two-time All-America selection who played in two Cotton Bowls. Now one of the premier quarterback coaches in Texas, Kevin still finds ways to “pick (Kyler’s) game apart.” But he’s also the first to acknowledge his son can do what a lot of other quarterbacks can’t, and he has a unique understanding of the cheap shots other teams occasionally take.
“Kyler understands that you can’t outwardly express your feelings by doing something ridiculous like throwing punches,” Kevin says. “The one way he can get back at you is (to score). Every game day I’ll text him a reminder of where we’re at and what needs to be done, not said. The bigger the games, the better he plays.”
Kevin isn’t sure an angry Kyler makes for a successful Kyler. But he sees the way slights can fuel his son.
Minutes after Kyler’s 10-yard scamper, the Allen sideline and crowd erupted in boos when officials missed an obvious late hit on an Allen receiver. Murray responded accordingly, taking the snap and sprinting 18 yards into the end zone. Allen went on to win 35-13 in a game that seemed pretty ho-hum for one of the most exciting players in the class of 2015, even if his statline still looked pretty impressive (24-of-37 passing for 326 yards with three touchdowns). Murray spent most of the night handing off to running backs and finding open receivers, as instructed; he can rifle passes anywhere he wants, Fleener says, a credit to his terrific footwork.
It might be too easy or lazy to say Murray is the second coming of former A&M standout and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, another quarterback short on height but big on confidence. The comparisons will inevitably come because of their stature (Fleener says Murray is 5-foot-10.5 in his bare feet but might still grow), which Murray is OK with -- for now. He describes Manziel as “my dude,” but says Manziel’s success is not what propelled him to pick the Aggies over Oregon.
“He’s pretty special, and I took note of that,” Murray says. “He won some big games in the SEC. He plays with passion and he’s not that big, like me, but we can both move and run the ball. I know that us dual-threat guys who are smaller, we have to take it to the next level in college.
“And I know that at A&M, if I do great things there, it will probably mean more because of the legacy my dad has there.”
But first up is a legacy of his own at Allen. Fleener likes that Murray is the type of quarterback who knows what went wrong the second he lets a bad pass go and will admit on the sideline when he should have thrown a ball away. Balancing anger with motivation is a constant lesson for the 17-year-old. The Plano East game was the first time Fleener had ever seen an opponent get into Murray’s head, and the assistant spent chunks of the game soothing his quarterback on the sideline. Afterward, he admitted some aggression on Murray’s end could lead to good things.
“You let him walk off the field, get a drink of water … and then watch him break an 86-yard run, all because he’s mad,” Fleener said, shaking his head with a smile.
He needs his quarterback to set the example. But if the formula gets Allen its third title in three years, Fleener’s OK with Murray getting a little angry.