NORMAN, Okla. — Kyle Mendenhall doesn’t complain about his schedule.
But how Kyler Murray doesn’t complain about his own while accommodating baseball and football regimens is beyond the Oklahoma senior second baseman.
“I’ve got all online classes,” Mendenhall said. “I only have to get out of bed for workouts and mentoring and stuff like that.
“So, for him to be doing both is unbelievable.”
Murray, a redshirt sophomore, is pursuing two sports at OU during a critical time.
He’ll battle Austin Kendall during spring football for the starting quarterback spot — to inherit the load of being Baker Mayfield’s heir — and is expected by many to win the coveted job.
The Sooners can also use Murray on the diamond while building on last year’s NCAA regional appearance, the school’s first since 2013. OU was picked fourth in the Big 12 preseason poll released Thursday.
His decision to stick with baseball forced OU baseball coach Skip Johnson and OU football coach Lincoln Riley to collaborate on a schedule that works for both teams, as well as Murray.
During 2017 preseason practices, Murray would arrive at the diamond after participating in 5:30 a.m. workouts with the football team. Now coaches have him lifting with the baseball team, which has 8 a.m., 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. workout blocks.
“He got out to practice, he was a little beat up,” said Johnson, OU’s pitching coach a year ago. “Now he’s lifting with the baseball team. That’s helped him a lot [to] transition into not getting up so early, and making sure he’s ready.”
Former OU head coaches Pete Hughes (baseball) and Bob Stoops (football) crafted the plan last year and did so in 2015-16 also, when quarterback Cody Thomas played both sports.
Riley and Johnson, in their first seasons in charge, agree this season’s schedule is more agreeable for Murray, though they’ve all dealt with increased restrictions regarding what the NCAA describes as Countable Athletic Related Activities (CARA), or how much a player can participate in athletics during a certain period.
“There’s a lot to be done when you look at both schedules. I think we’ve got a better feel for that right now,” Riley said. “I think we’ve put together a great plan.”
From a physical standpoint the scheme involves OU football’s newly hired strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie, who worked for the Dallas Cowboys in the late 1990s. He says he worked with former NFL and MLB star Deion Sanders while Sanders juggled two professional sports.
“[Murray’s] working core, he’s working shoulders, he’s working first step. All the things I would train with him anyway in the offseason, so he’s just getting around other guys that are doing the same. It’s actually really good for us,” Wylie said.
After a summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League, Murray is expected to play center field for the Sooners, which would mean moving All-Big 12 star Steele Walker to right field, Johnson said. Murray played infield at Allen (Texas) High School, where he never lost a game as a starting quarterback.
Last season, he stole a team-high 12 bases in 13 attempts for the Sooners despite playing in just 27 games. Johnson wants to increase Murray’s at-bats to improve his .122 average and decrease his strikeouts (20 in 49 at-bats).
His bunting needs work, too, which has meant extra time with former OU third baseman Jack Flansburg, a graduate assistant raised in California where small ball is predominant.
Along the way, Murray must concentrate on securing a first-string QB job at a school that has produced three Heisman Trophy winners at that position since 2003.
His focus will be divided when spring football practice and OU’s baseball regular season converge. Last season, Murray swooped into Norman for the Red-White spring game and completed 9 of 13 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown, shortly after a baseball outing at Texas.
OU’s spring game is April 14 and slated to end few hours before the Sooners’ 8 p.m. first pitch against Texas, which will take place about a mile south at L. Dale Mitchell Park.
It’s an athletic juggling act.
“My hat’s off to that guy just to deal with the schedule he has to deal with,” Mendenhall said. “You would never know it the way Kyler shows up at the baseball field. He’s the same guy every day and he’s one of the best athletes that I’ve ever been around. He’s a really good dude and he doesn’t come into the locker room and try to be that guy. He comes in, does his work and gets out of there. You can’t really ask much more from a guy like that.”
Palmateer writes for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI News Service publication.