C.J. Murrell's first contribution to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team was as a "G" in a big group of chest-painted students in the stands for the 2009 season opener at Finley Stadium. Murrell got the guys together, bought the paint and was the first "G" in the message "Go Chattanooga Mocs!!!!!!!"
Murrell was a freshman from Hendersonville, and he attended every home game during coach Russ Huesman's first season, wishing the entire time that he was on the field.
"When I got here I knew that I wanted to walk on to the team, there wasn't a question about it, it was just when," the senior safety said. "I was talking at that point to [former UTC assistant coach Carter Cardwell] and then he ended up leaving. When he left no one knew who I was, and so when I came out in the spring, it was starting from zero."
It took a long time for Murrell, an all-region player at Hendersonville High School, to even get pads during that first spring practice. He eventually did, was invited back for the 2010 season and appeared in four games, including against Auburn.
"That was really intense," he said, laughing. "I went in for one play and it was a kickoff return play - it wasn't the one [Brian Sutherland] scored on - and it didn't set in until I got back to the sidelines, when I started freaking out. I was like, oh man, I just played in front of 90,000 people."
Murrell eventually earned a scholarship and has bounced between Will linebacker and strong safety the past few seasons, mostly playing on special teams in his career. This preseason, with All-Southern Conference strong safety D.J. Key sidelined with a foot injury, Murrell has worked with the first-team defense from day one.
"I've played behind really good players my entire career and I never really thought I'd have this opportunity," he said. "I always hoped for it and wanted it, but now that it's here I'm just trying to take advantage of it."
Key is expected back before next Thursday's season opener against UT-Martin, though he hasn't gone through a full practice the entire preseason, so it remains to be seen how much Murrell will play in the secondary.
"Sometimes that's maybe not good enough for everybody," Huesman said of playing only special teams, "but if you hang around long enough, good things can happen."
Anything that happens on the field will just be a bonus to what has been a very memorable 2013 for Murrell. In June he married former UTC golfer Kayla Stewart, who works in advertising for the Times Free Press.
"It is different because I'm the only one that's married on the team ... but it's great," he said. "She was an athlete, so she knows what the grind is like. She's supported me ever since I've known her."
A regular on the dean's list, Murrell will graduate in December with a civil engineering degree. To satisfy his competitive streak, Murrell plans to begin participating in CrossFit competitions. Before that happens, though, there's a senior season to play, one that should be deeply satisfying for Murrell.
"I've had to prove myself every year," he said, "and just getting to this point hasn't been easy."
The season debut of 'Chat with the Mocs' is tonight at Jefferson's restaurant on Georgia Avenue. The show begins at 7 on 105.1 FM. Athletic director David Blackburn is tonight's guest. ... Mocs single-game tickets went on sale Wednesday. They can be purchased by calling the UTC ticket office - (423) 266-MOCS (6627) - or online at GoMocs.com.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.