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Murray ready for one last (first) big stage

12/29/2010

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray feels like he's past the injuries that have kept him on the sideline during what would have been a handful of the biggest games of his career. Feels that way anyway.

"I don’t think about them, I don’t deal with them. I’m far beyond that," Murray says.

Call it the competitor in him talking.

His body language before the Big 12 championship game earlier this month said otherwise. His coach, Bob Stoops, saw it.

Stoops says his four-year back was tentative and apprehensive during warm-ups.

"I could just tell," he said.

Coach that he is, Stoops made his way over to Murray and threw his arm around him, delivering a reassuring message he hoped would calm the back's nerves and produce a performance Murray has done so many times during his time at Oklahoma.

"'Hey, I haven’t had you in one of these games,'" Stoops said. "I said the same thing after. We got you in the Fiesta Bowl -- finally. He makes a difference."

Murray accounted for 128 yards of offense in that game -- bringing his career total to a staggering 5,164 from scrimmage -- but most importantly, he stayed healthy.

"The more he played, the more he started to trust it and feel good," Stoops said.

Finally, when Oklahoma takes the field in its fourth BCS bowl game of Murray's five-year stay in Norman, he'll be on the field with his team.

"It's been a dream come true for me to come here and wear that helmet," Murray said. "I’m definitely going to make a great last impression."

Oklahoma didn't get to those BCS bowls by making excuses, but if it wanted one to explain its five-game losing streak in BCS bowls, Murray's absence as a major contributor in the last two would qualify.

A knee injury against Texas Tech on a freak onside kick play in 2007 knocked him out of wins in Bedlam, the Big 12 title game and a Fiesta Bowl loss to West Virginia. In 2008, he suited up against Missouri in the Big 12 championship game, but injured his hamstring on the opening kickoff and couldn't return for the national championship loss to Florida.

As a freshman, he says it was hard to sit out, but he didn't fully grasp the importance of being in a BCS game until later in his career.

The Sooners are thankful it won't be an excuse this year, and Murray is too. He's missed just one game in the past two seasons, and has been on the field for all 13 games in 2010 -- soon to be 14.

Don't expect him to take his final opportunity for granted.

"This is what you play for," Murray said. "This is what every college player wants to do, be one of those 10 teams that have an opportunity to play in one of these BCS games."

Murray says he now recognizes that a bowl win provides a nice bump for the team in the preseason polls the following year. He won't be able to enjoy those spoils with a win and an ensuing exit stage left to the NFL after the season, but that has little bearing on Murray's mindset heading into Saturday night's contest.

On Tuesday, Stoops rattled off a list of attributes Murray has personified during his career, a rare combination.

"Attitude. Leadership. Toughness. Humility," Stoops said. "He’s a guy that isn’t worried about 'I' or what touches he gets."

The senior proved it for four years. As a freshman, he earned his carries alongside a more experienced senior, Allen Patrick. In 2008, he rushed for 1,000 yards in a near-even share with Chris Brown. In 2009, another even split with the senior.

Murray was Oklahoma's "guy" in 2010, receiving 172 more carries than the Sooners' next most-used back, even though freshman Roy Finch received a near-even share at times in conference play.

Murray enters Saturday's game with 734 career carries, approximately 734 more than his total career complaints about the size of that number.

"He’s just always been there and always played hard. Always played tough, physical, reliable," Stoops said.

With 14 carries against Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl, Murray will have carried the ball more than any other back at Oklahoma other than Steve Owens, and Stoops placed him in the same class with the two backs he could pass on the career carry list during the game.

"It’s rare to have a guy that has all of that," Stoops said of his earlier list of desirable attributes. "There’s other guys -- Adrian [Peterson] had all of that. I’ve had some pretty special backs -- Quentin [Griffin]-guys that are like that."

Murray is set to join them when he leaves, if he hasn't already.

He electrified fans with an eye-opening performance in the spring game before he'd even played a real game as a Sooner and proved he was for real with a 65-yard touchdown as a freshman against rival Texas in the Sooners' 28-21 win over the Longhorns.

He closed his career against the Sooners' marquee rivals on a familiar stage, carrying Oklahoma to a 28-20 win with a pair of touchdown runs -- including a highlight-reel worthy tightrope act -- as part of a 115-yard day, his second career 100-yard effort against the Longhorns.

He'll take a new stage in Glendale in a few days. By now, he's due.