Kenneth Murray Jr. faced childhood challenges that made him a man on the field

Oklahoma's Kenneth Murray gets psyched up before a game against Baylor in November.
(Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)
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The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.

Kenneth Murray Jr. used his combination of size, speed, athleticism, instincts and tenacity to develop into a 6-foot-2, 241-pound tackling machine at Oklahoma and one of the top two inside linebackers, along with Louisiana State’s Patrick Queen, in the upcoming NFL draft.

Murray does not take any of his attributes for granted. When Kenneth was 11 years old in Missouri City, Tex., his parents — Kenneth Sr., a Baptist pastor, and Dianne, a retired police officer — adopted three children with chromosomal disorders.


Nyia, now 19, can speak and is relatively independent, but she reads at an elementary school level. Lenny, now 14, and James, now 11, are non-verbal and significantly undersized for their age. Lenny is confined to a wheelchair.

“One of the big lessons I learned is to be grateful for life, for the ability I have, for being able to function properly, to be able to speak,” Murray, who also has a younger biological sister, said at the NFL combine in February.

“It makes me want to go out there and give my best every time, because literally, on an everyday basis, I see my two little brothers who can’t do what everybody else can do. So I try to take advantage of every opportunity.”

The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the 2020 NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.

April 17, 2020

Murray, a three-year starter at Oklahoma, accumulated 78 tackles and earned co-Big 12 defensive freshman of the year honors in 2017. He racked up 155 tackles, including a school-record 28 in an overtime win over triple-option-running Army, and garnered second-team all-conference honors in 2018.

He was a first-team All-Big 12 pick and third-team All-American last year, when he had 102 tackles, 17 for lost yardage, four sacks and four pass-breakups for the Sooners, who went 12-2 and lost to LSU in the national semifinals.

Murray was one of Oklahoma’s most diligent and hardest-working players. He watched five or six hours of film a day and arrived at the school’s football facility at 5:45 a.m. Monday through Thursday.


“The only reason why I’m not there on Friday is because we practice on the mornings on Friday,” Murray said. “I think my passion for the game is something you’re going to see a lot when you watch me play ball.”

That Murray is a natural leader, a player who made defensive calls and checks in all three college seasons, and has a reputation as a good teammate is no surprise.

The oldest of five children in his family, Murray assumed many care-giving responsibilities for his adopted siblings, shuttling them to and from doctor’s appointments and helping with household chores. As a teenager, he worked as a counselor for kids at a church community center.

“I tell people all the time that I feel like I raised three kids already,” Murray said. “That’s pretty much how I came up, who I am. It was a very unique situation. I think that’s one of the biggest things I learned, just how to be truly selfless and to be able to help.”