A crossroads for Kyler

John Shinn, Special to SoonerScoop.com
Sooner Scoop

A crossroads is coming in Kyler Murray’s collegiate career. The winter of 2018 is when he’ll likely pick the clearest path to a professional athletic career — football or baseball.

There’s still a season worth of both sports to weigh before that decision arrives. In the present, Murray and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops are content with the sophomore being the school’s most visible two-sport athlete.

Spring practice begins on Tuesday. Murray’s football goal to nail down the Sooners’ No. 2 quarterback behind Baker Mayfield before September. On the baseball diamond, he wants to expand beyond the role of platoon outfielder for the 21-3 Sooners.

OU coach Bob Stoops is OK with Murray’s multi-sport goals.

“I’m a firm believer that if God’s blessed the guy with the talent to do something else, to go ahead and use that talent,” Stoops said during his press conference on Monday. “As long as you’re able to handle it academically, that’s a big deal and not take away from the player you want to be on the football field as well.”

Trying to accomplish both tasks simultaneously raise the degree of difficulty.

However, Murray is a unique athlete — the five-star quarterback recruit with five-tool baseball talent. The number of people named an Under Armour All-American in both football and baseball are few and far between.

He’s the lone player in the 2015 football recruiting class that vetoed a chance at over $1 million in baseball signing bonus money to be a collegiate quarterback.

Regarding Murray’s football career, this spring is crucial. NCAA transfers prevented him from playing last season. He was the scout-team quarterback after transferring to OU after a season at Texas A&M.

The eligibility shackles are gone. Murray's battle with sophomore Austin Kendall for the backup spot is one of the more intriguing aspects of the Sooners’ spring.

Football has Kendall’s undivided attention. Can Murray match his position rival’s focus?

Stoops hasn’t prevented his players from playing baseball. Former quarterback Cody Thomas did it in 2014 and 2016. Former wide receiver Brandon Jones did it in the springs of 2002 and 2003.

Each case was unique. Divided attention hurt Thomas’ growth on both fields. Giving football his undivided attention in the spring of 2015 wasn’t enough to deter Mayfield’s rise to the starting job. Thomas sole focus on baseball didn’t come until last spring. That one season landed him on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ draft board and a $300,000 signing bonus.

Ultimately, Thomas figured out his future was on the diamond.

Jones quickly learned his future was in football.

“Cody maybe, it may have hurt him a little bit football-wise, but he’s a real baseball player, go do it,” Stoops said. “Other guys, Brandon Jones, was maybe a real football player, not quite a real baseball player. I believe you’ve got to find that out.”

But Murray received leeway Thomas and Jones lacked.

In the previous cases, football was the spring priority. Thomas and Jones were free to venture out to L. Dale Mitchell Park after the football practice and workout requirements at OU’s football facility were complete.

Stoops and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley are more accommodating of Murray’s baseball pursuit.

Riley and baseball coach Pete Hughes set a schedule. There will be times over the next four weeks baseball gets priority.

“For instance, if there’s an important game, he needs to play baseball and we might be practicing that day,” Stoops said. “We’ll give him maybe twice as many reps the day before and then the other guy is going to get twice as many while he’s playing.”

Murray’s health will also play a factor. He hasn’t played in the last 10 baseball games due to a strained hamstring. The plan isn’t to activate him for baseball again until the Sooners go to Baylor on Friday for their opening Big 12 Conference series.

OU’s medical staff was scheduled to give Stoops a medical report on Murray, who is batting .200 but has a .429 on-base percentage with a team-leading five stolen bases, Monday afternoon.

Ultimately, the Sooners’ goal is to let Murray develop in both sports. Stoops believes he can be a great quarterback. But he believes it doesn’t require Murray’s singular focus for it to occur.

“We want him to be able to be a great baseball player as well,” Stoops said.

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