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OU football: How Kenneth Murray goes from terrorizing Sooner linebacker to caring big brother

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Kenneth Murray emerged from the stadium tunnel on a mission.

He had to get his guy.

Sure enough, soon as the Oklahoma linebacker could, he grabbed and held tight. Even though it’s what he’s done many times on the field during this breakout season, it’s what he does every time his special-needs brother James comes to a game. Murray may be wiped out and worn down from playing, but he always carries the 10-year-old after games.

“That’s my baby,” Murray said with a smile.

With OU beginning the stretch run of this season at Kansas State, Murray has become the embodiment of the Sooners’ resurgent defense. He has gone from reactionary to aggressor. From lots of potential to lots of plays. From doormat to dominant.

The reasons are many, but when you ask Murray, his why has never changed.

“Family is everything to me,” he said after the Texas game. “My family is my why. The reason why I do things. The reason why I go so hard.”

And 10 years ago, that family added not one but three special-needs children.

Murray’s father, Kenneth Sr., was pastoring a church in Missouri City, Texas, a suburb on the southwest side of Houston, when a couple from the congregation got into trouble with child protective services. Their three children were going to be removed from their home.

Kenneth Sr. and his wife, Dianna, decided to take in the children. Nyia, 8-years-old at the time, was the oldest while Leonard, 3, was still a toddler and James was only an infant. All three had the same genetic disorder, an abnormality in their eighth chromosome where the lower arm of that genetic material is missing. It causes delays in mental and physical development.

The Murrays knew fostering the children would be a challenge but were willing to stand in the gap for them.

“We thought it was going to be a three-month period,” Kenneth Sr. said. “Turned out to be a year.”

Then child protective services decided to sever the biological parents’ rights.

Kenneth Sr. and Dianne didn’t want the kids to be adopted by different families and separated from each other. Didn’t want them to lose contact with their biological parents either, especially Nyia who was old enough to have a connection.

As much as anything, though, the Murrays didn’t feel their family would be complete without Nyia, Leonard and James.

In 2010, the Murrays adopted the three siblings.

Kenneth, who his family calls Kenny, became a doting big brother. Even though he was only 10 or 11 at the time, he loved playing with his little brothers. They roughhoused together. Wrestled. Bonded.

Kenny always looked out for others — he once wrote a letter to his principal about the water fountains being too high for him and his kindergarten classmates — but he had an even bigger place in his heart for Nyia, Leonard and James.

“If anything happens to you and Mom,” Kenny once told his dad, “I’ll step in.”

The years since the Murray family expanded haven’t always been easy. Kenneth Sr. and Dianne spent hundreds of hours with their little dumplins, as Dianne calls them, going to appointments with doctors and specialists and therapists, working on their physical and mental development.

"Our goal from Day 1 has always been to get them the types of services that they need to help them be the best that they can be at whatever level they’re at," Dianne said. "The goal is to help them develop as much as possible."

Nyia, now 18, looks like a normal teenager, and while she only reads at a second grade level, the Murrays hope she may one day be self-sufficient, able to get an apartment and live on her own.

Leonard, 13, and James, 10, are undersized by several years and non-verbal.

Truth is, they may never speak.

But on game days, they make plenty of noise. Both of the boys love the energy of the stadium. Leonard, who the family calls Lennie the Lion, will hoot and holler, but it is James, nicknamed King James, who really gets into the games. He will cheer everything.

“Sometimes … I just have to remind him, ‘You’re cheering for the wrong team,’” Kenneth Sr. said with a laugh.

Kenny said, “He’s a little crazy.”

Murray has a close bond will all his siblings, including biological sister, Kimberly, but King James' spunk and spirit captured his biggest brother's heart. They love to laugh and tease and have fun.

King James along with Lennie and Nyia have also given Murray invaluable perspective. He is fast and strong and powerful. They are not gifted the same way.

"It's something that I'm extremely grateful for," he said of his adopted siblings being a part of his family. "It makes me extremely grateful for the things that I have. Just the basic things."

"It's unique, and it's something I wouldn't trade for the world."

Family is more than Kenneth Murray's why. It's also his joy.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray has become the embodiment of the Sooners’ resurgent defense. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray has become the embodiment of the Sooners’ resurgent defense. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-18815f59f820b6dc609f24d0f9a052d5.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray has become the embodiment of the Sooners’ resurgent defense. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray has become the embodiment of the Sooners’ resurgent defense. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray has become the embodiment of the Sooners’ resurgent defense. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-2d058c6db18b6a0dcfd17258ae6263d2.jpg" alt="Photo - Kenneth Murray has turned into a star for Oklahoma's defense, but the reason he plays goes well beyond any accolades he get for what he does on the field. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" Kenneth Murray has turned into a star for Oklahoma's defense, but the reason he plays goes well beyond any accolades he get for what he does on the field. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Kenneth Murray has turned into a star for Oklahoma's defense, but the reason he plays goes well beyond any accolades he get for what he does on the field. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

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