NORMAN — Oklahoma strength coach Jerry Schmidt's rigorous workouts are legendary. So when running back DeMarco Murray said mixed martial arts training was as grueling as anything he's experienced, that's a strong statement.
Murray and OU teammate Quinton Carter both raved about the benefits gained from working with MMA trainers in Las Vegas during their spring break in May.
"It was definitely a good thing," Murray said. "I was never that tired. It definitely got my conditioning level and stamina up."
Murray, who is a huge fan of Ultimate Fighting Championship, said he has a friend who owns a gym in Las Vegas, his hometown.
"Q and I did it the entire break," Murray said. "Conditioning-wise it's a different kind of conditioning. You're using your whole body, using muscles I had never worked before until I did the boxing. It was a great workout."
In recent years, pro and college football teams have included hand-to-hand combat training as part of structured workouts. Schmidt has had linebackers, tight ends and linemen work with mixed martial arts instructors to improve their hands and footwork.
The Atlanta Falcons became the first NFL team to start a team-sponsored MMA program, hiring a new company founded by UFC star Randy Couture.
The Detroit Lions hired Luigi Gjokaj, a local pro boxer, to work with dozens of their players during the off-season.
"It doesn't surprise me," said OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "If you've ever wrestled somebody or you've ever gotten into a fight, it doesn't take long to get winded. You get out there rag-dolled a little bit, I can imagine it would pay bid dividends."
Murray and Carter didn't actually box but reaped the benefits.
"Sparring works on your shoulder," Carter said. "Punching the bag gets your endurance up as well as lifting weights. It's not weightlifting but body weight stuff, high rep things."
Murray and Carter said when they returned to Norman in June, they were in the best shape of their lives.
"I didn't do any running," Murray said. "All I did was jump ropes and boxing and lifting. I came back in great shape for Schmitty's workouts. I'll definitely continue to do it. Hopefully, I'll get another chance."
Since he once again will return kickoffs, Murray has a chance to surpass Joe Washington's career all-purpose yards record. He needs 1,648 yards to become the Sooners all-time leading rusher.
Regardless of where he finishes on OU's all-time lists, Murray won't jump inside an octagon like his favorite fighter, UCF welterweight icon Georges St. Pierre.
"Never," Murray said. "I've been to a couple of matches. I love 'em. It's fun, exciting. The atmosphere is crazy. But it's different kind of men. They're real men to be in there."
Despite Murray's ringing endorsement, don't expect an octagon in the Barry Switzer Center anytime soon.
"I'm sure it's great for MMA guys," said coach Bob Stoops. "We'll stick with our routine."