Patrick Murray wants to kick for the Cleveland Browns (and wants you to appreciate Gaelic football)

BEREA, Ohio -- The man wearing No. 2 for the Browns this training camp is small in stature and is competing for a starting job. You've heard that before. This year, though, that man is a kicker, his name is Patrick Murray, he's coming back from a torn ACL and his first sports love is a different kind of football: Gaelic football.

Murray, like his mother, Linda, was born in New Jersey. The 25-year-old though isn't shy about his affection for where his father, Aidan, was born.

"Ireland's home," Murray said. "Ireland's home for me."

It's in Ireland where Murray can trace his family's roots in a game that most Americans would find unfamiliar. It's a difficult sport to describe. Saying it is some combination of American football, soccer and rugby doesn't nearly do it justice.

"The game is unique, to say the least," Murray said.

Murray has two uncles, Ciaran and Brendan, who played the sport at its highest level. His cousin, Aeden, played at the highest level of ladies football. He also has two 18-year-old cousins playing for their senior team and who are going to college to play.

"It's an amateur sport," Murray said. "These guys go to work Monday through Friday and play for their county, which is like playing for your state, on Sunday."

Gaelic football is played on a rectangular pitch with goalposts on either end. They look like football goalposts, except they have what is essentially a soccer net in the lower half. The point is to kick or punch the ball into the goal or over the crossbar of the goalposts.

Murray can take it from there:

"We play with a round ball, not a weird-shaped ball. ... It's a heavy ball. You're playing 15-on-15, it's man marking ... you're sticking on (your man) the whole game and you've got to live in his pocket, simple as that. The scoring is done by kicking it in between posts for one point or kicking it into a net for three points. Full contact, you just can't wrap up."

The ball is moved by kicking or punching it to a teammate. Players can also take four steps and solo the ball -- meaning kick the ball up to themselves -- and they are allowed to bounce the ball, but not twice in a row.

"There's a lot that goes into it," Murray said. "It's all over YouTube."

Murray grew up playing the sport. From in the backyard to latching on with Rockland GAA in Rockland County in New York when he was about 14 or 15, Gaelic football has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember.

Scroll through Murray's Twitter feed and it doesn't take long to find out that he's a big supporter of County Monaghan in Ireland.

"I credit playing (Gaelic football) to helping me get to where I am today."
"I'm a huge, huge, huge supporter and that was my dream to go play for them," he said. "My two uncles played for Monaghan."

"When we would go back to Ireland ... I'd just play with the local club there," Murray said, "go train with them and go kick in the fields and my dream was to go play for County Monaghan, which is where my dad's from, in Croke Park (Stadium)."

So how did the 5-foot-7 Murray end up in Cleveland with a legitimate shot at winning the Browns kicking job?

"I credit playing that game to helping me get to where I am today," he said.

Murray said that the dead ball kicks that are part of the game -- they occur if a defender knocks the ball out across the endline -- are what helped him develop his power and accuracy. He said those kicks were about 50 yards with the ball on the ground.

He also credits the support of the Rockland GAA club, which he calls near and dear to his heart, with allowing him to chase an NFL dream.

"The people that are there have been so supportive of me through everything because I had to stop playing in college," he said. "I had to stop playing for the club because they knew what I wanted to do, which was to get to the NFL and give myself an opportunity to play and they were 100 percent supportive of that."

Murray kicked and punted at high school powerhouse Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, New Jersey. He felt like the NFL was in his future early on.

"It always was. I can remember watching Giants games and looking at my dad saying, 'You know, I could do that,'" Murray said, "and he's like, 'Yeah, we know you can do it, so go do it.'"

He hit his first real speed bump during the college recruiting process.

"Playing for a team like Don Bosco Prep, one of the best teams in the nation and having a really good career there, I thought that (FBS) was where I was supposed to be," he said. "So that's kind of what I focused on and one of the biggest regrets I have was not exploring different schools during my recruiting process because I was so singularly focused on playing at a (FBS) school."

College coaches told Murray that he was too small to play college football.

"I didn't understand that at the time and I kind of had some resentment and I guess that's where that chip formed on my shoulder," he said.

Murray ended up going to the University of Delaware for about a week before deciding it wasn't for him. That's when his mom, whom Murray calls an "angel," took him to visit her alma mater: Fordham.

"She brought me to Fordham to take a look to see if would be a place I'd like to just go to school -- not even thinking football-wise," Murray said.

It just so happened the football team was practicing that day. Murray introduced himself to the coach at the time, Tom Masella, and was told to send a highlight tape. It didn't take long for him to hear back.

"We're leaving Fordham," Murray said, "we're pulling out of the university and I get a phone call and the coach said, 'Look, we made some phone calls. We know who you are. We know who you played for. Show up tomorrow and we'll see what we can do.'"

Murray calls his time at Fordham as the best four years of his life.

His first two years in the NFL have been more difficult.

Murray signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in January of 2014. He would go on that season to convert 20 of 24 field goal attempts, including 13 in a row to end the season and five field goals of 50+ yards.

He was back battling for the Tampa Bay kicking job during the preseason of 2015, but then he tore his ACL in the third preseason game -- against the Browns -- and was placed on injured reserve.

"It was a shock," Murray said. "Kickers don't normally get hurt like that. It was an unfortunate accident, but in this business you have to realize that injuries will happen and you just have to have the right mindset and go attack your rehab and know that you can better from this and know that it's going to make you stronger physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well."

The Buccaneers waived Murray on May 19, a few weeks after trading up to take Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round of the NFL Draft. Murray said getting a call from the Browns meant the world to him.

"Getting released is never a fun thing, especially when you had some success," he said. "I had some success my rookie year, so getting released ... after that next year, it was tough."

"(The Browns are) a blue collar team," he said. "I'm a blue collar guy and I was excited to get the opportunity to come and compete."

He tried out for the Browns during their final minicamp of the spring, kicking the first two days and being informed on the third day that he was going to get offered a contract.

Murray said that he remembered kicking in Cleveland during the 2014 season and called it the toughest place in the league to kick. He also said it was the most hostile environment he'd ever played in.

"Those fans got after me," he said with a laugh.

Now he finds himself in a competition to kick for those fans.

"There's one spot," Murray said. "The best guy's going to get that spot. So (Coons) goes and puts his best self out there. I do the same for me. At the end of the day, the coaches have to make the decision. All I can control is kicking the way I'm supposed to kick, putting the ball through the posts and doing what I need to do on kickoffs."

"At that position, those guys know it's about makes and misses," special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. "To have a guy like Patrick come in and here compete for job, it's a legitimate job. If he does better than what Travis does, then obviously there's talk."

"The competition, that's what you have to live for as an athlete," Murray said. "That's what's supposed to drive you. It's fun to compete. I didn't get a chance to compete because of my knee. I missed out on it. I'm enjoying competition."

Murray's competitive spirit was forged in part by his younger brother, Aidan, who recently wrapped up a career kicking at Rutgers. Patrick and his only sibling were "always competitive."

"I was the older brother. I was tough on him," Patrick said. "Maybe too much at some times, or so my mom says. I tried to make him tough."

And, just like every big brother who takes it hard on his younger brother, Patrick can't help but beam with pride over what Aidan has accomplished.

"I'll tell you what, he played when was a sophomore at Don Bosco and normally that doesn't happen," Patrick said. "He kicked for three years in some of biggest games in that school's history. He won two national championships in high school. The kid, he's as competitive as I am and it was fun growing up and kicking together and getting a chance to try and be the better guy that day."

He also credits his father with helping him get a shot at making an NFL roster.

"My dad is the No. 1 reason why I'm here," Murray said. "He spent hours upon hours upon hours kicking with me and my brother and we developed into very, very good kickers and we're very grateful for the time that he spent with us and the time that he devoted to teaching us to be our best. Every kick that I take out here, a little piece of him is a part of it."

Murray has put Gaelic football aside for now as he pursues his NFL dream. He does admit that he misses the physicality, at least a little.

"Growing up the way I did, playing the sports that I did, yes, that physicality is built into me and I don't mind getting in there and mixing it up," he said. "At the same time, those are some big boys. Those are some really, really big boys. I don't want to get blindsided."

There haven't been many other challenges too big for Murray to handle.

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Neil S. Schwartz

Email: neilsschwartz@gmail.com

Jonathan Feinsod

Email: jonathan@sffootball.net

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