OU football: Kyler Murray trying to become Oklahoma’s latest ESPY winner

Former Oklahoma baseball and football player Kyler Murray to throw out the first pitch before the Sooners' game against TCU on April 6 at L. Dale Mitchell Park. Murray is up for the Best College Athlete ESPY. The ESPN awards show is Wednesday. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

Now and then as Kyler Murray went through the NFL Draft process and conducted organized team activities and rookie minicamp, Baker Mayfield would reach out for an update.

How’s Murray holding up?

“It’s (the NFL) a different ballgame,” Mayfield said, “but nothing he can’t handle that’s for sure.”

Mayfield and Murray’s paths to the NFL are nearly identical: They’re quarterbacks who transferred to Oklahoma, won the Heisman Trophy and were drafted No. 1 overall.

Murray can add another parallel if he takes home the ESPY for Best College Athlete on Wednesday. Mayfield won the previous award.

It’s one of the final times before Murray's NFL debut that his illustrious college finale will be a subject on national television.

Much like his NFL Draft night in Nashville, Murray could put OU in the spotlight if he wins. Because it’s a college award, Mayfield spent a good portion of his 2018 speech talking about his time with the Sooners.

Though ESPY ratings decreased from 5.3 to 3.9 million viewers from 2017 to 2018, the award show is still enjoying some of its best exposure since it began airing on ABC in 2015. Its blend of pop culture and sports draws a variety of media.

The Best College Athlete winner will be chosen by voters online, picking between Murray, Duke forward Zion Williamson, UCLA softball pitcher Rachel Garcia and Oregon women’s basketball star Sabrina Ionescu.

Williamson was picked No. 1 overall by the New Orleans Pelicans and claimed the 2019 Wooden Award. Garcia, who led the upset of OU in the Women’s College World Series, was USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. Ionescu set records as a triple-double machine at Oregon and won the Wooden Award.

Murray’s glitzy career is stiff competition.

After hitting just .122 in 50 at-bats in 2017, he starred for the Sooners in 2018 with a .296 average, .506 slugging percentage and 10 home runs, luring the Oakland Athletics to draft him with the No. 9 overall pick.

Many also figured him to be OU’s next quarterback. Though he hadn’t been named the starter yet, his dual-sided baseball and football career was deeply dissected in July-August 2018.

He ultimately spurned a $4.6 signing bonus from the A’s and committed to football after capturing the nation’s attention again during the fall. While propelling OU to the College Football Playoff, he became just the second FBS player in history to throw for at least 4,000 yards and rush for at least 1,000.

Murray isn’t the only former Sooner vying for an ESPY. Former Norman North and OU guard Trae Young is up for Best Breakthrough Athlete after averaging 19.1 points per game and shooting 41.8 percent from the field during his rookie season with the Atlanta Hawks. He’s up against Saquon Barkley, Christian Yelich and Naomi Osaka.

As magnetic as Young was during his time in Norman, Murray drew a bigger spotlight. He was the best player on one of the nation’s best teams. His speed and arm strength produced tailor-made plays for ESPN’s SportsCenter, and ultimately his decision between football and baseball was a story of its own.

The air of professionalism left over from his dealings with the A’s has helped him in Arizona, where, as Mayfield expected, teammates are impressed.

“Kyler’s confident, and he’s not a cocky player … He’s composed,” Arizona linebacker Chandler Jones told ESPN.com last week. “I can see him construct, I see him getting guys together in the huddle, and as a young guy, that’s something I admire about him.”

ESPY Awards

Where: Microsoft Theater, Los Angeles

Host: Tracy Morgan

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.


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