ALAMEDA –- Latavius Murray’s rise to prominence happened in a flash. The Raiders’ unheralded rushing prospect started left, broke right through a crease and turned on the afterburners.
His career and his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame burst forward at the same time.
Murray pulled away from opposing speedsters and reached pay dirt, completing a 90-yard touchdown run in less than 12 seconds. In football speed, that’s fast. Real fast. Murray took a beat to catch his breath and looked toward the night sky, enveloped by a stadium lost in the moment.
That, he thought, was fun.
Murray brought Raiders fans a rare source of joy in a miserable season. His two touchdowns against the Chiefs helped notch a 0-10 team’s first win, which happened in primetime, on national television.
Not bad for a sixth-round pick from central New York with a handful of carries to his name. Murray had a good day overall, but that 90-yarder was something special.
“The last time I saw a Raider run like that, it was Bo Jackson in Seattle in a primetime game,” CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz said after Murray’s run was replayed. “He was running right, through the end zone and up a ramp.”
Raiders fans of a certain age remember that beauty in 1987 – YouTube it, Millennials – where Jackson’s 91-yard sprint into the Kingdome tunnel furthered a growing Raiders legend.
That November night in Oakland was Murray’s first installment. He went from relative unknown to an early-round fantasy draft pick seemingly overnight, armed with an 82-carry resume to validate what many consider vast potential. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry in that small sample size, but his frame, slashing ability and blazing speed inspire confidence he can perform over the long haul.
This year, Murray will have every opportunity to do so. The Raiders will use him as a feature back in 2015, hoping the 24-year old can help spark an offensive renaissance.
“He’s gotten a lot of good work in through the offseason, Latavius has,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “We’re hoping that he can be our bell-cow back. That’s our goal.”
Musgrave knows how to use bell-cow backs. He worked career years out of Adrian Peterson in Minnesota and Fred Taylor in Jacksonville; the latter Murray idolized as a kid. All three backs wear No. 28. Musgrave believes he can coax a big season out of this one as well.
It’s an opportunity Murray is ready for. He logged significant hours in New York and the East Bay this offseason preparing to shoulder a heavy load. He’s in tremendous physical shape and is committed to stay that way during a rigorous regular season.
Big things are expected from those inside the organization and out, starting in Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals before a sold-out O.co Coliseum crowd.
It’s an opportunity Murray couldn’t see clearly playing at Onondaga Central High School. Murray grew up in a town of 23,000 just southwest of Syracuse, N.Y., and attended a high school with just 65 students in his graduating class.
Former University of Michigan running back and Indianapolis Colts draft pick Mike Hart paved the way for Murray at such a small school with three straight small-school state titles, but the NFL still felt like a pipe dream.
“Growing up where I grew up, it’s hard to say I truly believed back then that all this would happen and I’d be where I am today,” Murray said. “It’s crazy to think that the opportunity is right here in front of me. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s real.”
The opportunity to play remained out of reach even after getting drafted No. 181 overall out of Central Florida. Murray missed his entire rookie year with a foot injury, and spent most of his second season sitting behind ineffective rusher Darren McFadden.
“It was frustrating at times,” Murray said. “I finally felt healthy and ready to contribute; I wanted to get in there so bad, but I focused playing on special teams and made sure I did what I had to do to get on the field. I didn’t let emotion get the best of me or deter me from earning an opportunity to play.”
It finally came Nov. 16 against San Diego, when he had 59 yards on seven touches. That set the stage for his big night in Kansas City.
“Latavius had some great success last year, and really gave us a spark in the run game,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “I think to see his character through that and through being the guy this year, he’s the same guy. That says a lot about him as a person. You can tell physically in the weight room that he’s going to be able to take a heavy workload. That’s not going to be a problem for him. Going out there and doing it, he’ll prove himself and all those things.”
Questions still remain, and Murray’s fine with that. Can he stay healthy? Can he remain effective with so many touches? Can he adjust when defenses scheme to shut him down?
The Raiders have faith he can. That’s why they’ll involve him so much.
“It’s good to know that they want to put the ball in your hand that many times,” Murray said. “The only way that can happen is if I stay healthy, make plays and maximize the opportunities I get.
“It all starts Sunday against Cincinnati. I’m not nervous or anxious or worried. I’m just excited for the chance to go play.”