CHICAGO—Two-sport star and Hall of Fame defensive back Deion Sanders played for the Atlanta Falcons and Braves in 1992, and on Oct. 11 of that year, the cornerback/return man played in Miami against the Dolphins and then hopped a plane to Pittsburgh for Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.
One of the best athletes in the 2015 draft class, Kyler Murray, had a similar journey to reach the Under Armour All-America Game in Wrigley Field on Saturday.
Murray is the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country, according to ESPN’s Top 300. He has led Allen (Texas) High to a 27-0 record at the second-largest high school in Texas (more than 5,000 students) and won two state titles in the process at the 6A classification, the largest in the state. No quarterback has ever led his team to three straight titles in the University Interscholastic League’s largest classification. Murray’s pursuit to become the first began Monday when practice officially started.
That practice schedule kept him from heading to Chicago earlier in the week with the rest of the Under Armour baseball players, prevented him from attending the evaluation day on Friday and kept him in Texas to begin game day on Saturday.
“I woke up at 7 to get to practice to at 9, which was a two-hour practice,” Murray said. “Then I left to get to the airport and got on the plane around 2. But then the flight was delayed.”
Murray’s delayed flight arrived at 4:35 p.m. CST with the game beginning at 6:05 and slogged through traffic that was congested due to the Chicago Air & Water Show.
“Then we got to Chicago and it took forever to get here because of traffic,” Murray said. “I got here during the national anthem and everybody was already on the field.”
Since Murray missed warmups and batting practice on the field, his preparation was confined to the concourse leading to the seats down the right field line.
“We had a makeshift soft toss net where he wore someone else’s tennis shoes just to get swings in,” said Steve Bernhardt, executive vice president of baseball at Baseball Factory.
“I had to hit in one of those playful challenges that kids go through, but it got me ready,” Murray said.
In preparation for the UA Game, Murray swung the bat earlier in the week.
“The last time that I saw live pitching was with my summer team in late June,” Murray said. “I had to get ready for the Elite 11 (a premier high school quarterback camp) so I hadn’t played all summer except for late June. I got ready for this game with three days of hitting this week.”
The righthanded-hitting Murray was inserted into the lineup in the fourth inning with one out to face righthander Austin Riley. Murray spat on a first-pitch curveball at 76 that went for a strike, before fouling off an 89 mph fastball and swinging through a 91 mph fastball at chest height on 0-2 for a strikeout.
“With the first at-bat, I hadn’t seen live pitching in two months,” Murray said. “So I wasn’t informed like these guys were. He wasn’t throwing that hard but he K’ed me on three pitches. But it was good to get back into it.”
Murray came back up in the sixth to face fellow Texan Cole McKay. He fouled off a 90 mph fastball on the outer half to bring the count to 1-1 before taking two straight balls to reach an advantage count of 3-1. Murray hit a broken bat single to the left side of second base into shallow center field on an 89 mph fastball. The speedy Murray subsequently stole second on a 3-1 count and then swiped third.
“That is why I am here, because I have advantage with my feet and being able to run fast,” Murray said. “I wasn’t going to go to save my legs early in the count. But then coach told me ‘if you can take it, go.’”
Murray was stranded on third but came up again in the next frame and saw breaking balls on his first two pitches to square the count at 1-1. His plus bat speed and quick hands were on display when he squared up a 91 mph fastball for a hard line drive single to left field that was one of the hardest hit balls of the day.
“Before the third at-bat, I thought I have to get a good one and I got a good knock,” Murray said.
Murray became the first player ever to play in both the football and baseball Under Amour All-America Games.
“This was making history to be the first player in both games,” Murray said. “It is something I can always remember. I am just glad that Under Armour and Baseball Factory gave me the opportunity.”
This brief glimpse gave most national-level scouts their first look at Murray, who will draw lots of looks in the spring.
“I was mainly here for the scouts because they haven’t seen me at because of football,” Murray said. “I had to show scouts what I could do. I am definitely considering the draft. It just depends on this spring and how things play out.”
Before the spring is here Murray will face high expectations this fall considering his loud junior year. The dual-threat threw for 3,248 yards and 40 touchdowns (against eight interceptions) with a 65.4 completion percentage, while running for 1,230 yards and 17 touchdowns with an average of 8.9 yards per rushing attempt. Murray averaged 4.07 touchdowns and 319.9 all-purpose yards per game last season.
Murray is committed to his father’s alma mater at Texas A&M, where Kevin Murray was an All-American quarterback. His father was also drafted in the 11th round by the Brewers and played in the minors for a season. Calvin Murray, a former two-time first-round pick (1989 and 1992), former major leaguer (1999-2004) and current Boras Corp. employee (2005-present), is his uncle.
Kyler Murray said he plans on playing football and baseball if he reaches Texas A&M. The wiry, athletic 5-foot-11, 180-pound Murray played second base for his high school team this year but will likely move to shortstop, though some scouts see his future in the outfield with his plus speed.
“I don’t know how you can’t be impressed with Kyler Murray,” Bernhardt said. “It had been around 45 days since he has done anything baseball-related because of football. You could tell in the first at-bat that he hadn’t seen pitching in a little while and his timing was a little bit off, although he was probably about six inches from tripling down the right field line on the foul ball. The next one he had the single on the broken bat, but it was a good swing up the middle. Then he steals two bases. Then the last one he showed the quickness in the hands and it was an impressive swing. You can’t helped but be really impressed with that type of athleticism and his ability to do what he did today against the best pitchers in the country having not played in so long, going 2-for-3 and stealing 2 bases.”