THONOTOSASSA — It served as a final highlight reel of O.J. Murdock's life.
Middle school track star. Football standout at Tampa's Middleton High School. A fan favorite at college in Kansas. Tennessee Titans receiver.
Hundreds gathered at Calvary Tabernacle on Saturday to say goodbye to Murdock, who died last week at age 25. A lineup of former coaches, team members and classmates acted as narrators to his accomplishments. Members of Murdock's family, including his mother, Jamesena Murdock, sat in the front pew.
"O.J. was all of our sons," said Joe Troupe, who was a mentor to Murdock. "O.J. pretty much belonged to Tampa. He is a perfect example of a village raising a child. We had one common goal — to make sure O.J. was successful."
A Tennessee Titans receiver who spent his only season with the team on injured reserve, Murdock was slated to report to training camp last week. On Monday, he died of a self-inflicted wound in his car outside Middleton High School.
"I told somebody that O.J. could have been in the Olympics," said Harry Hubbard, Murdock's football coach at Middleton. "That speed. When God gives you a gift, people marvel at it. God blessed Murdock."
It started on the track, said Steve West, one of Murdock's former track coaches.
"I remember buying him his first pair of track shoes. Size 12," West said. "He went on to become one of the greatest middle school runners I've ever seen."
But the lure of football was stronger.
Murdock initially landed at the University of South Carolina after high school but was dismissed from the squad after being charged with grand theft. After a year of junior college he resurfaced at Fort Hays State University in Kansas in 2009.
There, he helped boost a low- ranked school, said Al McCray, a receiver coach at Fort Hays State.
"When O.J. hit that campus, it was magic," McCray said. Fans would come to the games and wave gallons of orange juice in the stands to cheer him on. "As you can see, he was loved here in Tampa. But O.J. also brought a million dollar smile to a small town in Kansas."
In his short time with the Tennessee Titans, Murdock's sincerity showed through.
Titans wide receiver Damian Williams said he was surprised when Murdock showed up with cash after accepting Williams' offer of a place to stay.
"Within 45 minutes of arriving he was trying to pay me rent," Williams said.
Williams tried to turn him down and poked fun at the fact that his other roommate, a friend from home, had been living in the house rent-free for three years.
"So, O.J. caused problems in my home the first day he was there," Williams said.
As a final goodbye, Troupe offered up one more accomplishment.
"O.J. wanted to be a first-round draft pick," Troupe said. "This is his draft party."
"I'm no Roger Goodell," he announced, referring to the NFL commissioner, "but with the first pick, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ selects Mr. Orenthal Murdock."
The sanctuary erupted into applause.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.