Former FHSU great Murdock dies
Published on -7/31/2012, 10:23 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
On Sunday morning, former Fort Hays State University quarterback Mike Garrison had a short Facebook conversation with his friend, Tiger All-American wideout O.J. Murdock.
In 2009-10, Garrison and Murdock set multiple school records and led one of the most prolific offenses in school history and NCAA Division II. Since then, Murdock signed with the Tennessee Titans, while Garrison finished school and now works construction in Phoenix. The two remained close.
"He said, 'Had a blast playing with you,' " Garrison said. "No one will be able to do the things that we did. I will never forget you, Mike."
Garrison wrote back: "It was the time of my life playing with you. No one will come close, and there's no way I am going to forget you, O.J."
On Monday, Garrison received a call from former FHSU tight end Beau Gadwood. Murdock, a Tampa native, was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to a Tampa police report.
Police said officers found Murdock at approximately 8:30 a.m. Eastern time inside his car parked in front of Middleton High School, Murdock's alma mater. Garrison, like the rest of the Fort Hays community, is stunned by Murdock's death.
"I just can't believe that it happened," Garrison said. "I just can't get over it right now."
Murdock, 25, was a football and track star at Middleton and signed with NCAA Division I University of South Carolina out of high school. Murdock was a teammate of Kenny McKinley, a former Denver Bronco, who also died from a self-inflicted gun shot wound.
Murdock was eventually kicked off the South Carolina team for an off-the-field issue.
Murdock played at Pearl River Community College and then time off from football. Current Tiger wide receivers coach Al McCray, who coached Murdock in high school, eventually brought the wideout to Hays.
Murdock instantly transformed an offense that went 2-9 and averaged 15.9 points per game, 132nd-ranked in Division II, in 2008. As well, Murdock turned his life around off the field and was personable with teammates, fans and media. He was well-liked and a fan favorite.
"Probably every time I saw O.J. on the football field, off of it, he had a smile on his face," Garrison said. He was one of those guys, he was very humble. He doesn't boast very much. He just loves the game of football.
"He put his life, his heart and soul and everything into it. He dedicated every moment, on the field, off the field, to football and succeeding and teaching the younger players, how to be a good receiver and how to be a good football player and a good leader."
In 2009, Murdock earned second team all-MIAA honors as FHSU finished 6-5 and averaged 33.2 points per game.
"I knew that he was a special guy," Garrison said. "He introduced himself right off the bat. Someone new, you kind of have to be around them a little bit before they introduce themselves on the football field, but he came right up to me, shook my hand, introduced himself, and we were friends from there on out.
"He just had that attitude and brought that demeanor that he was a football player, very humble about himself, but he came to work," he added. "I am just hurt that it happened. I still can't believe that it happened."
Murdock missed the first game of the 2009 season because of a paperwork issue, but made an immediate impact in a 31-21 Week 2 home victory against Colorado School of Mines. Garrison's first pass to Murdock was a 70-yard touchdown pass where Murdock outjumped a defensive back, made an outstanding catch and raced to the end zone.
In 2010, Murdock caught 60 passes for a school record 1,290 yards and 12 touchdowns. He set the MIAA record -- previously held by former Missouri Southern and Denver Bronco standout Rod Smith -- for career yards per catch (21.5).
"He worked so hard at being the best receiver that he could be," former Tiger center Paul Nelson said. "It was really impressive, not only on the field, but off the field, doing everything right, hitting the weight room, going to class, getting good grades. He was just a really great guy, great teammate. We had so much fun playing together."
The last pass Garrison ever threw (and Murdock ever caught in a game) was a 6-yard touchdown in a Week 11 road game against Missouri Western State University in 2010. Garrison and Murdock hold the school mark for most TDs by a quarterback/wideout combo.
"It just means a lot that we connected from the start and to the finish," Garrison said. "It's just something that I've thought about, knowing that this happened, I just go back to every game that we played and look at how we did. That's one of the biggest things that I bring away from my friendship and my memories and legacy with him."
Current FHSU coach Chris Brown, who served as Washburn University's defensive coordinator for nine seasons before he took over the Tigers in 2011, listed Murdock in the top-three of the MIAA's wideouts in his tenure.
"When I was there as the defensive coordinator, my big thing was, don't give up the deep ball against O.J. and that's something we really had to prepare for," Brown said. "When he caught the ball in front of you, you hoped you could tackle him. He was that type of player and he was a threat all over the field. We really keyed on him quite a bit and tried to keep the ball out of his hands and did the best that we could, but he was such a good player, it was too hard to do those things."
Murdock wasn't drafted, but signed with the Titans last year. He tore his Achilles during 2011 training camp and spent the season on injured reserve. According to reports, Murdock reported to the Titans during June minicamp. He didn't report to training camp on June 27, but talked with the Titans and said everything was OK.
On Sunday, he reached out to Garrison.
On Monday, he sent a text to McCray at 3:30 a.m. thanking the coach. At the end of the text, Murdock wrote "I apologize." A few hours later, McCray was sitting with the Tiger coaches in meetings when his phone started buzzing.
"Al got a text from across his phone, said, 'Coach, I got to get out of here,' " Brown said. "We still don't know the full realm of things of what exactly happened and what has gone on, but we are still trying to get to the bottom of it, but right now, just my thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family."
Brown said McCray and Sherod Murdock, O.J.'s brother and a starting junior defensive back for the Tigers, will head to Florida for several days. Brown said the duo is expected to return in time for training camp next week.
On Tuesday, Garrison talked with more than half a dozen players about Murdock -- and saved the Facebook message from his friend. Everyone was in shock. Garrison called Tuesday one of the worst days of his life.
"I talked to my boss and he asked me if I wanted to go home and I said, 'I can't,' " Garrison said. "I can't just sit there and think about it. I have to be doing something, but even though I was doing something, it was on my mind the entire time. Former players, my teammates called me and I talked to them about it. I talked to my dad about it. I can't stop thinking about it. I just can't fathom what happened."