O.J. Murdock spent parts of what turned out to be the last days of his life contacting friends and coaches, mostly by text message, thanking them for all they had done for him and his family.
Al McCray, who coached Murdock at Middleton High in Tampa, Fla., and at Fort Hays State in Kansas, received an early-morning text from the Tennessee Titans receiver just hours before he was found in his car Monday with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“I got a text at 3:30 in the morning, where he said: ‘Coach, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me and my family. It’s greatly appreciated,’” McCray said. “At the end, he goes: ‘I apologize.’ And I don’t know what he’s talking about. I woke up, and I’m thinking he’s apologizing because he texted me so early. … I wish he had called instead.”
Aesha Bailey, who coached Murdock at Memorial Middle, was the first to find him in his Dodge Challenger parked just outside of the stadium fence at Middleton. She said the two of them had recently had a phone conversation during which she also received a mysterious apology.
“He just kept saying ‘I’m sorry, coach. I’m sorry,’ ” Bailey said. “That’s all he said.”
Murdock, 25, had a tough road to the NFL. After making his mark as a star athlete in middle and high school, he signed with South Carolina but played just four games before being suspended indefinitely following a shoplifting charge. A comeback attempt at Pearl River Community College ended with a broken collarbone. He then received a scholarship from Marshall but did not take the right classes and was ineligible to play.
Murdock finally regained his star status at Fort Hays, where he had 60 catches for 1,290 yards and 12 touchdowns and earned a spot in the East-West Shrine all-star game in Orlando, Fla., his senior season. He made the Titans as an undrafted free agent in 2011 but hurt his right Achilles’ early in training camp and spent the season on injured reserve.
He informed the Titans he would be a couple days late reporting to training camp for personal issues. Still, all indications were that his rehabilitation was going fine and he was excited about the upcoming season.
“I spoke to him a week ago, and he was so excited about getting ready to go” to training camp, McCray said. “He was real happy about being able to help his mother out.”
According to police, Murdock left a suicide note but its contents cannot be revealed since the case is still under investigation, leaving loved ones to continue wondering what happened.
“He was always a happy guy who played around a lot and always had a smile on his face,” Titans teammate Damian Williams said. “I definitely didn’t see it coming.”
The Associated Press and MCT Regional News contributed to this report.