LARAMIE — The thought of being in this position was far-fetched. At least this soon anyway.
But it happened for Jordan Murry.
A month ago, Wyoming’s true freshman cornerback wasn’t anywhere near the two-deep at a position that was arguably the deepest on the roster heading into the season.
Yet it was Murry who took the field for the Cowboys’ first defensive snap against UNLV last week in front of 23,029 fans packed into War Memorial Stadium for both teams’ Mountain West opener.
It’s the kind of moment that made for butterflies.
“Millions of them,” Murry said. “Looking at all those fans and all those people, it was very different from high school.”
Like most first-year players making their first career start, there were mental mistakes that came a result of trying to process all the different formations and personnel UNLV threw at the Cowboys. But Murry eventually got into the flow of the game, and by the second quarter, it started to slow down mentally. That’s when Murry said he started to play the game at the speed he’s used to with some assistance from the veterans alongside him.
“I got real comfortable because all my teammates kept lifting me up,” Murry said. “I had (senior linebacker) Cassh (Maluia) out there and Logan Wilson, so that was a big help.”
Murry often drew the much bigger Randal Grimes in coverage, but Murry held his own against the 6-foot-4 USC transfer, who caught six passes for 66 yards. With few other options available, Murry got a majority of the reps opposite Wyoming’s other starting corner, Azizi Hearn, and matched Hearn’s five tackles, which tied for third-most on the team.
Even those Murry was filling in for were impressed by what they saw from the youngster.
“I think he had an outstanding performance,” said senior corner Tyler Hall, who watched the Cowboys’ 53-17 win from the sideline. “A true freshman and he gets thrown in the fire. I remember when I got thrown in the fire (as a freshman in 2016), but it wasn’t me having to start the whole game.
“Most definitely he had a couple of big tackles and big hits. Played good in man coverage, so I’m proud of him.”
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Of course, throwing a true freshman into the starting lineup five games into the season wasn’t the plan. In fact, given Murry’s diminutive size — he’s 5-10 and 155 pounds soaking wet — and the fact he’d played receiver throughout his prep career at Murrieta Valley High (California) before being recruited by Wyoming as a defensive back, Murry figured he’d use a redshirt year to bulk up and get more acclimated to the Cowboys’ defense.
“There are times if he stands sideways, you can hardly see him,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said.
But attrition cut into Wyoming’s cornerback depth before the season started, and it hasn’t stopped much since. Senior Antonio Hull, who started with Hall last season, returned to his native California before the season opener to deal with what Bohl called a personal matter and still hasn’t played this season despite rejoining the team two weeks ago. Bohl declined to comment on Hull’s status after Saturday’s game.
Sophomore C.J. Coldon took over as the starter in Hull’s absence but played just three games before sustaining a season-ending injury, and the Cowboys were without Hall last week after he suffered a concussion at the tail end of his final kickoff return in Wyoming’s 24-21 loss at Tulsa.
Wyoming’s sixth cornerback during fall camp, Murry traveled to Tulsa as the No. 3 corner and made his season debut against the Golden Hurricane. A week later, he was at the top of the depth chart and making plays out of necessity.
“Jordan had played a little bit in the previous game, and we’d seen some good signs. You see some things that are encouraging in practice, but he really came out to compete,” Bohl said. “I think he’s 155 pounds, so he threw whatever he had out there. He competed and made some big-time plays.”
One of those was an impactful hit on UNLV running back Charles Williams early in the second quarter. Williams, the Mountain West’s leading rusher on a per-game basis, bounced a run outside and tried to turn the corner, but Murry diagnosed it before he could and upended Williams with a thud. Williams left the game with an injury and didn’t return.
“During the game, UNLV, they were talking a lot about how small I was, how I wasn’t supposed to be on the field, I don’t belong here and things like that,” Murry said. “I think that made a statement.”
Hall is still going through protocol, but with an extra week to recover before Wyoming heads to San Diego State on Oct. 12, he said he “most definitely” will be ready for that game. Regardless if he’s still one of the first corners on the field or not, the depleted numbers mean Murry will likely be part of the rotation going forward.
There’s a solid showing for the youngster to build on. Even if it was unexpected.
“To come here and you’re down on the depth chart, it was tough at the very beginning, but I always understood because I never played this position before,” Murry said. “But I knew once I got here, I would have my opportunity, which I did.”