The anticipation and excitement surrounding the start of another NFL season holds even deeper meaning for Chargers linebacker Kenneth Murray.
The team's first-round selection from Oklahoma is scheduled to make his pro debut as a starter this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. It's a position earned after a condensed training camp filled with early mornings, relentless studying and lofty goal-setting.
"Obviously you work your entire life to get to this point," Murray said. "But I think really the main thing that I'm feeling and what I keep telling myself is just to stay poised. I think going throughout this camp, I've been able to do that."
Murray said picking up the defense has been a day-to-day grind, noting that each practice brings progress. He said his comfort in the scheme is a testament to help from teammates and coaches, from All-Pro safety Derwin James to linebackers coach Richard Smith.
"I tell you what, he's getting better every practice, man," head coach Anthony Lynn said. "He's a sharp young man, he works hard. He's here early this morning; came in the same time as the coaches and studying tape. He's gonna work at it. And so I have all the confidence in the world when the lights come on, Kenneth Murray's gonna be ready to play football."
The 5 a.m. film sessions at the facility are simply a part of Murray's personal standard. He said he takes preparation during game week "extremely serious" and that yields his desired results on game days.
The NFL is new, but Murray is familiar with two key members of the Bengals offense. The last quarterback he faced in college will be the first one he that sees in the pros: Joe Burrow. The 2019 Heisman Trophy winner led LSU to a national title, beating Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
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Then there's the Bengals star running back and former Sooner Joe Mixon. Murray said the two have recently talked about squaring off in Cincinnati.
"It's all love between us two, but when we get out there we're gonna compete our butts off and it's gonna be a lot of fun," he said.
Sunday afternoon marks the start of what Murray expects to be a decorated career. Over three years ago, Murray put on Twitter that one day he would get drafted in the first round as a linebacker. Mission accomplished.
At the start of training camp, he tweeted his NFL goals: First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl linebacker, a spot on the "NFL Top 100," and Super Bowl Champion.
"It takes bricks to get there," Murray said. "You can't just build a castle in one day. So every day putting in those daily deposits and going in, putting in that work, and trying to get better every day is what's gonna get me to where I want to be."