Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Ex-Middleton High football standout O.J. Murdock's death a shock to family, friends

TAMPA — Fort Hays State receivers coach Al McCray arose Monday morning to discover a text message as cryptic as it was courteous.

O.J. Murdock had sent it at 3:30 a.m.

"It was like, 'Coach, I appreciate everything you've done for me and my family,' " recalled McCray, a former longtime high school assistant in Hillsborough County. "At the end of the text he said, 'I apologize.' I figured he's apologizing because he texted me so early."

Hours later, Murdock was pronounced dead of an apparent suicide, and McCray — like many others close to the sleek former Middleton High athletic star — was awash in confusion and grief.

Murdock died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. According to a media alert sent out by the Tampa Police Department on Monday morning, Murdock, who signed a free agent deal with the Tennessee Titans a year ago, was transported to Tampa General Hospital in critical condition. He was found in his car in front of Middleton High School around 8:30 a.m.

Murdock, 25, died at 10:43 a.m. Funeral arrangements are pending.

"I spoke to him about a week and a half ago. He was in good spirits, really excited about being able to help his mother out," said McCray, who watched Murdock set Fort Hays State's single-season record for receiving yards (1,290) and yards per catch (21.5) in 2010.

"And the people in Hays (Kansas), gosh, they love him so much. If he wanted to run for mayor, he would've won in a landslide."

Murdock, on injured reserve last season with the Titans after injuring his Achilles, did not report to training camp Friday with the rest of the Titans. When asked about his absence, coach Mike Munchak told reporters it was for "personal reasons."

"In his brief time here, a number of our players, coaches and staff had grown close to O.J., and this is a difficult time for them," the Titans said in a statement. "…Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends."

Murdock initially landed at South Carolina after high school but was dismissed from the squad by coach Steve Spurrier after being charged with grand theft. After a year of junior college he resurfaced at Fort Hays State in 2009.

With his fleetness energizing the passing game, the Tigers made a quantum leap offensively. The year before his arrival, FHSU averaged 15.91 points (132nd nationally among Division II teams) and finished 2-9. In Murdock's first season, 2009, it averaged 33.18 (29th) and went 6-5. The next season, Murdock's last, FHSU set a program attendance record.

"I lived and saw what impact that kid had on this community," McCray said. "It was unbelievable."

Ricky Sailor, founder of a local non-profit service (Unsigned Preps) that helps high school football players get into college, said Murdock had been an active volunteer in his organization.

"That's something I know people are not reporting, but O.J. was doing things in the community that went quietly," said Sailor, adding he hadn't seen Murdock in about a year. "He understood that these guys need opportunities."

Several dozen of Murdock's friends and relatives gathered Monday night at the home of his mother, Jamesena, located exactly a mile and a half from Middleton High. Jamesena Murdock declined comment.

"We're all taking it bad right now," said Delmar Shorter, 22, who played youth football with O.J. Murdock in Temple Terrace. "Can't put it in words. …Nobody saw it coming."

As a high school senior, Murdock was ranked the nation's 10th-best receiver by Rivals, and chose South Carolina over Florida. He was the Tampa Bay Times' top bay area prospect in the Class of 2005, after catching 58 passes for 831 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior. Murdock was also a state track standout that year, winning gold in the 100 and 200 meters.

"That just knocks me off my feet," said Harry Hubbard, who coached Murdock three seasons at Middleton and last saw him at a Blake-Middleton football game in October.

"I'm going to always remember his smile and just his warmth. Every time he would see me he would always have a big smile and laugh when we talked and everything. …Truly, he was probably one of the best athletes that I've ever coached. Personally, I always remember that smile."

Ex-Middleton High football standout O.J. Murdock's death a shock to family, friends 07/30/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 1:52am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect

    Bucs

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Hopes fade after landslide destroys Chinese village (w/video)

    World

    Crews searching through the night in the rubble left by a landslide that buried a mountain village under tons of soil and rocks in southwestern China found 15 bodies, but more than 110 more people remained missing.

    Vehicles and people line a road leading to the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Mao County on Saturday in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. More than 100 people remained missing after the village was buried under tons of rocks and soil.
  3. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  4. Thousands converge in two St. Pete locations celebrating LGBT rights

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom Rockhill didn't know what to expect Saturday, but by noon people were knocking on the door of his bar Right Around the Corner in Grand Central.

    (From left to right) Emma Chalut 18, gets a rainbow sticker on her cheek from her sister Ellie, 15 both of Jacksonville before the annual St. Pete Pride parade in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday. This year the route was changed from the Grand Central and Kenwood area to Bayshore Drive.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald dies

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Florida Supreme Court justice, who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race, has died.

    Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday, the court said in a statement. He was 93.