Is Patrick Murray the answer to the Bucs’ kicking prayers?

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He has been back with the Bucs for three games, but he still doesnít have a wood-carved nameplate over his locker. Nick Folkís name is still over a stall.

"Iím just happy to have a locker," Patrick Murray said.

He has been the answer to a prayer. And this is a man who prays. A lot.

Remember when the kicking game was the Bucsí cross to bear? Three games into his second stint in Tampa Bay, the 26-year-old Murray has settled in perfectly, 3-for-3 on field goals ó one from 50 yards.

Murray canít explain everything that has happened to him over the past few years, though he has tried to find answers. Oh, has he tried. He thinks about his first go with the Bucs as starting kicker, in 2014. He was humming along until a torn ACL in his nonkicking leg. He came back with the Browns last season but went down with another injury to the same knee. He was about to put his Fordham finance degree to work on Wall Street when Tampa Bay invited him to a tryout.

"This is the biggest opportunity of my life, coming back to play for this team," Murray said. "How cool is it to come back to the place where you started, to get to see guys who you began your journey with?"

Murray is pretty cool all by himself, chatty, inquisitive ó and relentless.

"Iíve always been the underdog," the 5-foot-7 Murray said. "Iíve always been the guy who thinks he needs to work harder than anyone. Ö Iím not the tallest guy in the world. Iím not the strongest guy in the world, but my mom and dad pushed me to always be the best."

The lessons began in Mahwah, N.J., in a working-class family with a devout Catholic faith.

"Weíre the family that sat in the same seats every Sunday at Sacred Heart Church," Murray said.

Murrayís uncle is a Salesian priest. When he served mass at the Murray home, Patrick was his altar boy.

"The Catholic education I received carried me through a lot of life lessons through 26 years," he said. "I know I believe in a God who will take care of me and has things planned out for me, and his timing is never wrong."

That doesnít mean Murray always understood the plan. Thatís why, after the injuries and coming back from them, he consulted with Ö a medium.

The Bucs are playing the Saints today, and the Christian holy day All Saints Day was this week, and New Orleans is full of fortune tellers, and Ö

Murray stops you right there.

"I think youíre reading too much into that, truthfully," he said.

He doesnít sit at a felt-top table, across from someone in a gold turban. Murray met the medium through her husband, who trained at the same gym as Murray.

"Itís not hocus-pocus. Nobody is seeing into the future," Murray said with a smile. "There is no fortune teller in my life. Itís just someone who has helped me, someone who has helped me kind of realize why these things happened, these injuries, and put it into proper perspective. Ö You can talk to a psychologist if thatís what you need to feel good. You can talk to a medium if thatís what makes you feel good. You can talk to a priest. Whatever gets you in the right frame of mind and allows you to execute your job, why not do it?

"Iíve connected with people on the other side through my own experiences. I can talk to my grandfather who passed away. Now granted, is he going to say something back? Heís not going to stand in front of me, but thatís where my faith comes in. I know that Iím going to see that person again, so I can still talk to them, bring my problems to them. Thereís comfort in that. I talk to a lot of people whoíve been on my side. Some of them are here, some arenít. Iíve got the gift of gab. I could talk to a wall."

Murrayís father, Aidan, came to America from Ireland. Patrick holds dual citizenship. He nearly attended college in Dublin.

"My family goes to Ireland every summer," Murray said. "We have family there. Itís what resonates with me the most. When I go there, thatís not vacation. Thatís home."

Murray is positive that if the world of NFL placekicking hadnít been open to him, he would be living in Ireland, working in finance, playing Gaelic football, a rough-and-tumble sport that takes place on a pitch larger than an NFL field. Fifteen a side. Players use their hands ó and feet.

"If it wasnít for Gaelic football, I wouldnít have this opportunity," said Murray, who grew up playing the game. "It taught me to be confident with the ball in my hand and kicking the ball, because itís all punting. It taught me how to properly take a dead ball, putting the ball down and kicking it through the posts. And the physicality of it. Getting hit all the time. Jabs here and there. Thereís no padding. Thatís the way it should be."

Murrayís father, who is 56, can still kick 35- to 40-yard field goals and punt a ball 50 yards. Heís the only person Patrick trusts when it comes to his kicking technique. Aidan Murray oversees shipping and receiving at a college in Mahwah. Patrickís mother is a special-needs teacher.

"If you want to talk about the embodiment of a saint, look no further than Linda Murray," Patrick said. "My dad is the hardest-working man I know. He did everything under the sun. When he was in college, he would go to Germany in the summer and work construction. When he came here, he would paint houses.

"Heís the handiest man I ever met. Iím pretty handy. I learned it from him. I can fix whatever."

And he has.

Kicking isnít the Bucsí biggest problem anymore.

Break on through to the other side.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029.

   
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