Kenneth Murray strives to help, inspire Chargers' new-look LB corps

Kenneth Murray buried his head into hands, then began to cry.

The former Oklahoma linebacker sat in the living room of his childhood home in Missouri City, Texas, surrounded by family members who simultaneously erupted in celebration.

"It was just crazy energy once I got the call," Murray said. "Emotional. It's been a long time coming for us."

The call, just moments earlier, was from Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, who informed Murray that the Chargers were selecting him with the No. 23 overall pick in the NFL draft.

"It just really took me all by surprise," Murray said on draft night. "I just couldn't control my emotions."

For the Chargers, the selection of Murray was part of a carefully executed plan.

After selecting Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert with the No. 6 overall pick, the Bolts weren't scheduled to pick again until the second round at No. 37 overall. But as Murray remained available later into the first round, the Chargers took to the phones to find a trade partner. The New England Patriots sent the Bolts the No. 23 overall pick in exchange for second- and third-round selections.

"He's a guy that we had our eyes on, we had a plan," Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. "He plays this game like old-school linebackers ... Also, he has that leadership, those intangibles that I really like in a young man."

Murray is strong, long, fast, and physical, according to Lynn, and has the traits to lead a defense.

"When you tie that in with what he's done off the football field, and the type of person he is," Lynn said. "He was just one of my favorite players in the draft, to be honest with you."

Murray's father, Kenneth Sr., is a Baptist pastor. His mother, Dianne, is a retired police officer. When Murray was 11 years old, his parents adopted three children with special needs to join Kenneth and his biological sister, making a family of seven.

"It's made me extremely selfless and also has taught me what gratitude is," Murray said. "Just taught me to be grateful for the little things in life."

Murray's younger brothers, Lenny and James, are non-verbal and Lenny is confined to a wheelchair. His adopted sister, Nyia, is able to speak but has difficulty reading at 19 years old.

Murray has long found joy in carrying his brothers around, given they're vastly undersized for their ages. He's found joy in watching sports with them and has endless appreciation for his parents, who have tirelessly set a caring example.

When it came to the pursuit of his NFL dream, Murray said his siblings -- who often attend his football games -- weren't his only inspiration. He was also motivated by his parents, who always made certain his siblings made it to their numerous doctors' appointments and always made sure he got to the gym.

"Just seeing how much excitement they get from sports and watching sports and not even being able to communicate and seeing how they interact at my games," Murray said about his siblings, "I have no other choice but to give it my all on a daily basis."

Lynn quickly learned of Murray's innate desire to help others during the draft process. But Lynn also stated, rather matter-of-fact, that it was Murray's talent that earned him a spot with the Chargers.

"You could be the greatest person in the world," Lynn said. "But if you can't play, I can't help you. Kenneth can play, and that's what got my attention first."

Murray joins a linebacking corps that includes Drue Tranquill -- a fourth-round pick last year -- and Nick Vigil, whom the Bolts signed to a one-year, $1.2-million contract in free agency.

The Chargers have put considerable effort into filling defensive holes as they attempt to overcome last season's disappointing 5-11 finish and remain in pursuit of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

In fact, it's the high-octane Chiefs that made Murray a must-get player for the Bolts.

"He can cover a lot of space," Lynn said. 'Kansas City has a lot of speed, and I think that every pick we take, every move we make, we have to have them in mind."

Said Bradley: "That's why you're seeing a guy like Kenneth Murray get drafted."

Murray is 6-foot-2 and 241 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds at February's NFL scouting combine.

Bradley described him as an alpha male with a strong personality who will provide flexibility. Murray is expected to master both inside positions, weakside and middle linebacker, to provide versatility. Vigil, touted by coaches for his intelligence, will also be expected to play both spots.

But it's Murray who will eventually be depended on to cover dynamic playmakers on offense, especially those who pop from the Chiefs' backfield.

"I can do that extremely well," Murray said. "It is something that I was tasked with doing all throughout college, so I take -- just look at my athletic ability and my speed and my range and all the things that I bring to the table."

In three seasons at Oklahoma, Murray started all 42 games and finished his career with 325 tackles, including 36.5 for a loss, and 9.5 sacks. In daily practices, he lined up across from three quarterbacks who have since been drafted -- Cleveland Browns starter Baker Mayfield, Arizona Cardinals starter Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts, who the Philadelphia Eagles selected in the second round last month.

"Those guys are all great in their own ways and definitely made me better as a player because I got to compete against all three of them," Murray said, noting that Sooners practice typically pitted starters versus starters. "It was kind of quarterback-versus-middle-linebacker type thing and that's what we did, so that helped me be who I am as a football player."

Murray will contribute early with the Chargers, but his impact might not be felt immediately. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Bolts, like the rest of the NFL, are unable to conduct the offseason program and rookie minicamp in person and must settle for virtual lessons behind computer screens.

However, Murray is not concerned about losing time in his development.

"My biggest quality is my work ethic," Murray said. "I'm a guy that is going to come in and set the tone. My work ethic -- I'm going to come in and work extremely hard."