A few University at Buffalo players were standing on the sideline during practice this week when one of them announced he was about to mimic a Brandon Murie mannerism. He put a slight bend in his arms. He placed his hands just outside his hips, fingers slightly bent. It was close to a dead-on imitation of an omnipresent Murie’s mannerism.
When he’s around the football field Murie carries himself in a way that suggests he’s poised to grab on to something. And that’s pretty much the truth of it. He arrived from Iroquois High School as a walk-on hoping to grab on to a roster spot. Once on the roster he yearned to take hold of some playing time and lay his hands on a scholarship. Upon making his mark on special teams and joining the scholarship set he strived for inclusion within the offense, an opportunity that fully arrived last week at Connecticut when an injury to Bo Oliver thrust Murie into the role of starting running back.
Murie carried 18 times for 58 yards and a touchdown. He also took a pitch from Alex Neutz off a wide receiver screen and sprinted 50 yards down the sideline for another score. He became the first player in UB’s FBS history to register a 50-50-50 in terms of yards accumulated running, receiving and on returns.
“I’m not happy with last week at all. I’ll tell you that right now,” Murie said. “I thought I ran bad. I mean, 3 yards a carry isn’t really anything. I don’t want the level of play to drop at all at the running back position. I want to be right up there with Bo.”
Murie’s come by nothing easily during his football career, perhaps because of the bias that comes with being a 5-foot-9, 185-pound running back, albeit one with eye-opening quickness. He was a back-up from his youth football days right right through his time on the Iroquois JV. It was on the varsity that he emerged, becoming a two-time All-WNY selection and the Chiefs’ career rushing leader. Colleges were so impressed that not a one came a calling with scholarship in hand.
“I really didn’t have any DI-A offers,” Murie said. “I had a few DI-AAs. I was looking at Marists and Colgates, those types of school where it’s academics and they can’t give scholarships. I was kind of looking all over the place.”
UB invited him to walk on and, at the urging of his mother Barb, Murie acquiesced.
“My mom told me to go to UB but I was looking elsewhere. Then I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to UB.’ That’s where I decided I wanted to be, play in my hometown. It’s expensive here but it’s not bad so I decided to come here.”
Murie sat out his first year and saw time in two games as a redshirt freshman, making enough of an impression to be put on scholarship. His breakthrough came last season, on special teams, with numbers that included a 93-yard kickoff return that fell just shy of a touchdown.
“He spent a lot of time on scout team demo, as we call it, and he got noticed,” Bulls coach Jeff Quinn said. “I put him in a game two years ago and last year he became the (team’s) Special Teams Player of the Year. To see him in a backup role for Branden Oliver just shows what (can be done with) hard work and determination and sticking with the plan and being a great team player.”
Murie’s a temporary solution at running back. The job belongs to Oliver, although it’s doubtful he’ll be ready for Saturday’s Mid-American Conference game at Ohio. The No. 2 spot has been owned by James Potts, although he’s out for the season with an ACL tear. Murie’s accepting of his situation but determined to show that he belongs.
“Here I’m behind a Doak Walker (nominee). I completely understand that,” he said. “And James Potts is a helluva running back, No. 1 recruit we’ve ever had. Having those guys in front of me feels good. Like it feels good to be among these guys, playing amongst this type of talent. So I’m always pushing towards that greatness.”
At the least Murie’s shown there’s a place for him in the offense. He can be deadly off a screen pass. He can even line up at receiver. Four games into his junior season, he’s forcing people to take notice and recapturing the attention of high school friends who slipped out of touch. The texts and phone calls rolled in after his two-TD day at UConn.
“Everyone’s surprised because they see my size and they don’t think I’m able to do a lot of things besides special teams here,” Murie said. “To see me at running back again, everyone’s like, “Whoa.” It feels good.”