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OU football: Alex Grinch's defense starts with Kenneth Murray

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Kenneth Murray

Junior linebacker Kenneth Murray walks onto the field before the game against Houston Sept. 1.

Kenneth Murray's mirror and locker are full of sticky notes. 

Written on those sticky notes are reminders of the type of player the junior middle linebacker wants to be each and every game. He wants to play fast. He wants to be aggressive. He wants to be physical. And, most importantly, he wants to be a leader. 

Those sticky notes represent all the things that motivate him, which he says are countless. 

"I really can't put it into perspective. It's a lot of things," Murray said. "I think I realize that the past doesn't define me. I think I draw a lot of motivation from the past few years. ... I think, if you were to describe the chip on my shoulder, it's diverse to be honest. There's a lot of things. I could sit up here all day and talk about the things that motivate me."

Murray has had a unique career so far at Oklahoma. Starting his freshman season at middle linebacker — a position he had never played before — he showed the potential to be standout at the position with more experience. His sophomore season was not nearly as successful as anticipated, and he often made mistakes he didn't think he should be making.

But despite a sophomore slump, Murray's expectations coming into the 2019 season have never been higher. He was voted the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, which to some came as a bit of a surprise. 

Sunday against Houston, Murray showed why no one should have been surprised. He was all the things he's set out to be: fast, aggressive, physical and a leader. 

"He looked like a confident football player," defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. "He played exceptionally well. He's a guy that we need to, he's a guy that's earned the right to. A unique skill set from the size and speed standpoint. 

"The good Lord doesn't make a lot like that. We're very fortunate we got one. We've got to find ways to get more like that." 

Murray led the team in tackles against Houston with 13 — 2.5 of those for loss. He looked comfortable for the first time in his Sooner career. At times last year he seemed lost, not knowing what was expected of him from the coaches. 

But Sunday saw a different Murray than in the past. He played with a free mind.

"He played really loose," sophomore linebacker DaShaun White said. "He used his speed in a lot of situations. I think people forgot how fast he was. He's freaking fast and he's huge. ... He wasn't hesitant at all." 

Murray's play will be crucial this season. If Oklahoma wants to take that next step toward winning a national title, he'll have to play every game like he did Sunday. 

His energy and physicality feeds the rest of the defense. And if Grinch and "Speed D" are going to change the defensive culture at Oklahoma, Murray has to lead the way. 

"It's time for him to be that guy," Grinch said. "And we're dying as a defense to have more guys like that." 

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I joined The Daily in the fall of 2016 as a sophomore. I've covered the soccer team, both men's and women's basketball, as well as the football team for the past two years. I have been the sports editor since spring 2018.

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