TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nyqwan Murray has gone by “Noonie” for as long as he can remember.
And no, he doesn’t have any idea where the nickname came from.
“A thousand people have asked me,” Murray said with a smile. “But I don’t know. I just grew up with the nickname ‘Noonie.’ As I got older, that’s all I was hearing – ‘Noonie, Noonie, Noonie.’
“But one day I’m going to ask my grandma where that nickname came from.”
Jacques Patrick, Florida State’s junior running back, has known Murray since the two were youth football teammates as nine-year-olds in Orlando.
“He’s always been ‘Noonie,’” Patrick said. “It just stuck.”
Whether “Nyqwan” or “Noonie,” Florida State fans are hoping this fall to call Murray the Seminoles’ No. 1 receiver.
The job is open after FSU lost not only its previous leading receiver, Travis Rudolph, but also its next three top targets: seniors Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield, and running back Dalvin Cook.
Those four combined to account for 153 of FSU’s 244 receptions and 2,113 of 3,433 passing yards.
Rudolph, however, leaves the biggest shoes to fill. His 56 catches were 22 more than his next closest teammate (Whitfield with 34) and his 840 yards nearly double the next closest (Cook with 488).
He was, by definition, a No. 1 receiver and likely would have been again had he not declared for the NFL draft following the 2016 season.
Only “likely” because, by the end of the year, Rudolph might no longer have been the best receiver on the team.
Murray, then a sophomore thrust into action by an injury to Wilson, was only a step or two short of dominant during FSU’s last six games. He reached the 100-yard mark twice during that stretch, flirted with doing it a third time (he had 96 yards against Clemson) and caught five touchdowns.
And, of course, he capped the year in emphatic fashion – to say nothing of spring-boarding into the next season – by doing this:
And following up with this:
On that last play, Murray beat Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis, an All-American who went on to become a third-round draft pick, for a game-winning touchdown.
“(Murray) can do and be anything he wants to be,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said after the game. “… He can be a difference-maker for this football team, because there’s not a route he can’t run, there’s not a catch he can’t make and there’s not a thing he can’t do.”
Next up for Murray: Do it all on a week-to-week basis.
Make that a day-to-day, practice-to-practice basis.
Fisher hasn’t been shy about butting heads with Murray in the past, when Murray’s admitted lack of preparation or attention to detail would have his coach seeing red.
With so many other receivers in the mix this time a year ago, the Seminoles could survive Murray’s occasional miscues or missed assignments.
But that’s not the case this season, and Murray knows it.
“There were a few times last year I came to practice, I wasn’t ready to go,” he said. “I was a young dude, young buck, had a lot of older guys in front of me, so I felt like I could slack a little bit. … But I’m ready to take that next step and be that guy Jimbo wants me to be.”
Early returns suggest that Murray’s words are backed up by his actions.
He’s often seen setting examples for the younger receivers during practice drills, and he’s taken to sparring – both physically and verbally – with star safety Derwin James when the offense lines up against the defense.
“He’s taking things seriously. Taking coaching better. You can just see it,” Patrick said. “When Jimbo gets on him, (he says) ‘Yes sir,’ and he fixes it right away.”
“He’s becoming an unbelievable receiver,” James added. “Like Coach said, he’s tough to guard. You’ve got to use your technique right against him. He’s going to create the separation he needs.”
Creating separation might be the best part of Murray’s game. At 5-foot-11, 176 pounds, Murray is unlikely to overwhelm opposing defensive backs the way a larger receiver would.
But he excels at getting lost in an opposing defense, often finding a window to make a catch and take off running before a defensive back can find him.
“The whole team is holding him accountable,” FSU receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey said. “Some people can’t handle the pressure of it. They got to be the No. 3 or 4 guy. They can’t be ‘The Guy’ – they can’t be the 1 or the 2. They have to be the role player.
“Nyqwan, we’re putting it on him because this is what we’ve got. We’ve only got so many, now it’s his time to step up.”
But that’s just fine with Murray, who, after two years of watching and learning, believes he’s ready for the spotlight.
“That’s what I came to Florida State for: to be that guy,” Murray said. “To be that dude.”