Scouting Combine Linebackers: Murray’s a Real Lifesaver
Part 2 of our three-part series on the 31 off-the-ball linebackers includes Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray. (Underclassmen are noted with an asterisk.)
Scoota Harris, Arkansas (6-0, 245): Harris was second-team all-SEC for a third consecutive year. As a senior, he had a team-high 101 tackles, including 6.5 for losses. He added two forced fumbles and two recoveries. With three seasons of 100-plus tackles, he finished his career with 337 tackles – fifth-most in school history.
His real name is De’Jon. His mom gave him the nickname because the baby liked to scoot around the house. The name stuck. At John Ehret High School in New Orleans, Harris played linebacker, running back, kicker and punter. When the starting quarterback went down, Harris filled the void and led the team to a state championship. He was recruited by Alabama. "He told me I was that old-school guy on both sides of the ball that he liked to recruit," Harris told Arkansas Online. "It was a good feeling knowing that all the things I did in high school, I was getting credit from Coach Saban." He’s cousins with Michael Divinity, the LSU defender in this draft class.
Malik Harrison, Ohio State (6-3, 240): A two-year starter, Harrrison led the team with 75 tackles and added 4.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for losses and four pass breakups as a senior. “I think Malik has a chance to be one of the best in the country,” Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington said early in the season. “And I’ll tell him that. I’m not a guy [to withhold praise], and I’m honest. I think he has the ability — but you have to exercise that ability every day.”
A native of Columbus, Ohio, he played quarterback and several other positions at Walnut Ridge High School and helped lead the basketball team to its first state tournament. “He had a really wicked stiff-arm,” Walnut Ridge football coach Byron Mattox said. “It looked like that tight end for the Steelers a lot of times, he’d just stiff-arm kids and they’d crumble to the ground. He jumped over a couple guys in high school. One other thing that stands out, he was playing basketball, some of the dunks. He was just the leader of that basketball team and brought a lot of excitement to the games with his acrobatic dunks and all that type of stuff.” He went to Ohio State to play receiver.
Khaleke Hudson, Michigan (6-0, 220): Hudson was a three-year starter and three-time all-Big Ten selection. As a senior, he led the team with 102 tackles, including two sacks and 3.5 for losses, and broke up three passes. He was a semifinalist for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award. He had a monster 2017 with eight sacks, 18.5 TFLs and 11 passes defensed. Most of his career totals of 237 tackles, 12 sacks, 26 TFLs, 16 passes defensed and five blocked kicks came during his final three seasons.
Against Minnesota in 2017, he tied an NCAA single-game record with eight tackles for losses. At 220 pounds, he replaced Jabrill Peppers at Michigan’s “Viper” position, a linebacker-safety hybrid. “That's a guy that's a really good safety, but he could also have the versatility to be a really good nickel kind of cover guy, and also the abilities of a linebacker and even a pass rusher off the edge,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters in August. “It’s that kind of Swiss Army knife, Jim-Thorpe-type of player that can do all those different things that are really high level. [They’re] smart because they have to come from different angles, different gaps and can come from anywhere. I think a Troy Polamalu-type player, that kind of mold.” Hudson tried to follow Peppers in another way, too, as both had loved ones murdered. "I lost my father to gun violence in McKeesport (Pa.)," Hudson said of his Pennsylvania hometown near Pittsburgh. "But I didn't let it get me down or, like some people, look for revenge for something like that and go down that road.” Hudson is fueled by his father. Carlos Hudson Sr. served several years in prison for possessing cocaine with the intent to distribute. About a year after his release, he was shot and killed. “I didn’t really think about getting answers or nothing like that,” Hudson told the Athletic. “I just wanted to make my dad proud by working at my craft, working in the classroom, being a good son for my mom and my dad.”
Clay Johnston, Baylor (6-1, 232): Johnston was second-team all-Big 12 as a senior despite playing in only six games due to a season-ending knee injury. He had 2.5 sacks and eight tackles for losses among his 58 stops. He was second-team all-conference as a junior, too, with 99 tackles.
Johnston is a free-spirited tackling machine. “I want to win the Big 12 and then move to the mountains and be at peace,” Johnston told the Waco Tribune. “I told my dad after this season I’m going to block a week in my life and I’m going to go to a foreign land and spend it with my brother and maybe a friend. We’re going to hike the mountains. We’ll see where I go. I might end up in New Zealand or Norway, who knows?” His father, Kent, spent 24 years as an NFL strength coach before joining the Baylor staff in 2018. Johnston was named Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year in 1997 with the Packers. “I’ve got a picture of Brett Favre holding Clay like a football, acting like he was fixing to throw him,” Kent Johnston said. He’s from a family of athletes, with his mom playing basketball at Alabama and two other brothers playing college ball. “It’s cool getting to hit people and not get in trouble for doing it,” Johnston told the Waco Tribune. “I played a little running back, but I was never the shiftiest or the fastest. I didn’t have any juice. I’ll just stick to hitting people. That’s probably what I’m best suited for.”
Jordan Mack, Virginia (6-2, 230): Mack, the winner of the ACC's Jim Tatum Award as the conference's top football scholar-athlete, appeared in 47 games and recorded 289 tackles. As a senior, he was third-team all-ACC with 7.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for losses among his 69 total stops. Mack missed the Orange Bowl following ankle surgery. “He was tormented by trying to decide,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said. For his career, he posted 14.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for losses and six forced fumbles.
He was a finalist for the William Campbell Trophy – aka the Academic Heisman – for his work on and off the field. “Absolutely, I’m proud of it,” Mack told the Athletic. “Just doing my part of the ‘and’ we talk about each and every single day of our pillars and our program. About being more than just a football player and more than being an athlete, about being a student and the classroom and in the community and doing the right things both on and off the field.” Mack’s college debut came in 2016 against Richmond, where his brother played before joining the Virginia staff. "It was a lot of competition whether it was video games or just outside on the street playing football, basketball, anything," Mack told the school athletic site. "There was a lot of competition between us and that just carried over into the first game when we played each other.” His father played fullback at Georgia Tech. "I have watched some of his old games," Mack told the school athletics site. "I would get the VHS tapes and pop them into the VCR to see him catch the ball running down the sideline or watch him make a block and hear the announcers say his name on the program. You just think 'That's my dad, that's pretty cool.'"
Kamal Martin, Minnesota (6-3, 245): In eight games, Martin tallied 66 tackles, 2.5 tackles for losses, two forced fumbles and two interceptions to earn honorable-mention all-Big Ten. He missed four games with a knee injury and skipped the bowl game. In four seasons, he recorded 177 tackles, four forced fumbles and four interceptions. He was a difference-maker when he played – which wasn’t always the case. Along with injuries, he was suspended for the 2018 bowl game.
At Burnsville (Minn.) High School, Martin played quarterback and safety and was a finalist for Mr. Football Minnesota. “I think Kamal was a really good athlete, but he wasn’t a very good linebacker yet,” coach P.J. Fleck told the Post Bulletin in October. “And I remember watching him play in the first spring we were here (in 2017) and we were just like ‘uh oh.’” Ultimately, through hard work and experience, he became a hit at his new position. “He’s got safety-type skills at linebacker,” Fleck told the Star Tribune. “… He can run. He can catch. He’s agile, and he can cover. He can tackle in space. He’ll stone you in the box. I mean, he’ll bite you. One-on-one, facemask-to-facemask, and he’ll sweep the ankle somehow, some way and open space as the last resort.”
Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma* (6-2, 243): Murray was an All-American with team-leading totals of 102 tackles and 17 tackles for losses. He added four sacks and four pass breakups. In three seasons, he piled up 335 tackles and 37 tackles for losses. He started as an 18-year-old freshman. “It was a great experience, you know, learning all that stuff. Going through the year, I definitely learned a lot from Game 1 to Game 14. Listening to my coaches and stuff like that, I learned a lot.”
In July, he perhaps saved a life. While coming home from search, he helped a woman who was unconscious and bleeding from her head. He performed CPR on the woman, who was deaf. “She looked like she was dead to be honest. Immediately going through my head was to start CPR. I had my girlfriend call 911. … We got her back, got her breathing. We got her to the point where she was blinking a little bit.” When he was 10, his parents adopted three siblings, each of them with special needs. “Kenny decided early on that this was something we had to do to help take care of them,” said Murray’s mom, Dianne. Murray also has a biological sister, Kimberly, who is 17 years old. “They’re his younger brothers and sister. He’s very proud of them and loves helping out when he comes home … He’s the best big brother they could ask for.” Of the adopted kids, one is 18 and reads at a second-grade level. The others, who are 13 and 10, can’t speak. “It’s something that I’m extremely grateful for,” said Murray, whose father is a minster. “It makes me extremely grateful for the things that I have. Just the basic things.” He graduated in December with a degree in communication.
Dante Olson, Montana (6-3, 240): Olson had a banner career with a school-record 397 tackles. As a senior, he was a first-team All-American and won the Buck Buchanan Award, which goes to the top defensive player in FCS. His 179 tackles were more than anyone in college football and set a Big Sky Conference record. It also broke the Montana record, which Olson had set in 2018 with an FCS-leading 151 tackles. In a game against Oregon in 2019, he had 14 tackles.
Olson has a 3.91 GPA and was active in the community. In 2018, he was the GoGriz.com Person of the Year. Part of his work was in an anti-bullying campaign. As a kid, Olson was the one being bullied. "The instincts in me said, Dante, you're going to have to learn how to deal with this. You've got to stand up to him," his father, Jeff, told the school athletics site. "But that isn't his nature. On the field, yes, he can be a violent dude. Away from the field, that's not who he is. I saw him every day and he was crying and saying he was never going back to school. I didn't appreciate the extent to which he was truly suffering until years later. Shame on me for not recognizing the signs. It breaks my heart to know he'd thought those thoughts.” Those thoughts included suicide. Olson was named to the AFCA Good Works Team for his work as a pen-pal mentor to underprivileged kids in Gerber, Calif., in the “No Excuses University” program. “It’s just a really cool deal being able to Skype them or getting to open and read the letters they have for me and being able to help them with their questions and just giving them someone they can look up to and relate to,” he told the Mail Tribune. “It’s really solidified how I love helping people and those in need or maybe less fortunate, and maybe meant more to me than even to them. It’s been one of those unique opportunities where you really get to mentor and be there for an upcoming younger generation of kids.” His dad, Jeff, is a Hall of Fame head football coach at Southern Oregon University. Not being a starter as a ninth-grader loomed large. “My freshman year of high school was really probably the turning point for football,” Olson told 406MTSports.com. “I took that rejection personally and wanted to be the best that I could be in everything I do, no matter what I do. Just ever since then, I’ve had the mindset to be as good as I can at whatever I can.”
Jacob Phillips, LSU* (6-4, 233): Phillips started as a sophomore and junior. After posting 87 tackles in 2018, he piled up 113 tackles in 2019. His three-year totals were 218 tackles, two sacks, 13.5 TFLs, one interception and one forced fumble. He missed the 2018 finale and the 2019 spring practices due to a torn labrum.
Phillips stepped up as a player and as a leader following the departure of star Devin White. “He approached it head-on,” Phillips’ mother, Tami, told the Advocate. “He was very excited about being a leader on the team and taking the baton from Devin and continuing the goal toward a national championship. That's always been the goal.” White was a big mentor and continues to be one. "Writing my goals down, I've always kind of done that, but talking to Devin, he's like a big brother," Phillips told the school athletic site. "He hit me up before camp started and was like, 'Hey, you want to tell me your goals?' He wants to hold me accountable to the goals, and he told me his, and I'm going to hold him accountable." Before starting at LSU, Phillips was one of the top recruits in the nation. He also was one of the younger leaders of the Young Gents of East Nashville, an organization that mentors youth in the community. He made an impact on one 12-year-old in particular. “The only person he would listen to was Jacob,” Ricky Cole told the Advocate. “He looked up to him. Well, the young kid turned out OK.”
Michael Pinckney, Miami (6-1, 226): The senior was voted second-team all-ACC with five sacks and 12.5 tackles for losses among his 64 stops. A four-year starter with consistent production, Pinckney delivered 267 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 42 tackles for losses, three interceptions and 12 passes defensed. He had double-digits TFLs each of his final three seasons.
Pinckney was inspired by the visions of past Hurricanes greats. Ray Lewis topped that list. He didn’t want to be as good as Lewis. He vowed to be better. “I feel like, man, you’ve got to say things like that, even if you know you’re not yet,” Pinckney told the Palm Beach Post. “Somebody you grew up watching, you’ve got to be like, ‘I’m going to be better than you,’ and I’ve got the chance to do it. I’ve just got to fight to do it.” He was suspended for one game in 2018 for taking a banned substance.
Shaquille Quarterman, Miami (6-1, 241): Quarterman not only was a four-year starter but he was a four-time all-conference selection, including first-team honors as a junior and senior. As a senior, he posted a team-high 107 tackles, which included 15.5 tackles for losses.Both figures were career highs. His four-year totals included 356 tackles, 13 sacks, 46.5 TFLs, 14 passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
He was the first true freshman to start at middle linebacker for Miami since Dan Morgan in 1998. A rock, he became the first Hurricane to ever start all 52 collegiate games. “To have any record at this school, you have to be doing something right,’’ Quarterman told the Miami Herald. “I don’t think many people are able to do that, so it’s definitely a blessing.” He played through a torn shoulder as a freshman. “I knew that I didn’t want to give my spot up no matter if I was injured,’’ he said. “I think there’s a difference between bumps and bruises, and injuries. With that shoulder issue I had, it wasn’t like I couldn’t perform. I just had to put on a shoulder strap and go to the training room for countless hours a day, but it was worth it on Saturdays, being able to run out the smoke with my guys. It was a small price to pay.’’
Fittingly, Pinckney and Quarterman are one after the other in alphabetical order because they were an inseparable tandem. As freshman, new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz – who later would become Miami’s coach – wanted to see what the new guys could do, so he put them in the starting lineup during spring practice. They never left the No. 1 unit. "I still remember when I bumped them up to the first team. I thought it would last one day," Diaz told the school athletics site. "That's not to say they wouldn't be starters eventually, but I thought that day the older guys would get angry and have a great day. I also thought it'd be too big for those young guys and they would mess up and go back down to the second team. Everything that spring was about competition and finding out who our best guys were and here we sit, four years later, they're still the starters at Miami.”
Get to Know the Scouting Combine Prospects
Introducing the 31 Linebackers
Introducing the 34 Edge Rushers
Introducing the 25 Defensive Linemen
Introducing the 20 Tight Ends
Introducing the 25 Offensive Tackles
Introducing the 17 Guards
Introducing the 10 Centers
Introducing the 55 Receivers
Introducing the 30 Running Backs
Introducing the 17 Quarterbacks