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Alouettes defensive back Murray thankful injury allowed him to help care for mother

It cost him a chance to play in the Grey Cup but Najee Murray is thankful the injury that ended his season happened when it did.
Montreal Alouettes' Najee Murray, right, tackles Ottawa Redblacks' Quan Bray during first half CFL football action in Montreal, Saturday, June 10, 2023. It cost him a chance to play in the Grey Cup but Murray is thankful his season-ending pectoral injury happened when it did. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

It cost him a chance to play in the Grey Cup but Najee Murray is thankful the injury that ended his season happened when it did.

Murray's 2023 campaign ended July 30 when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle in Montreal's 25-18 win over the Calgary Stampeders. Surgery was required, forcing him to watch the Alouettes' improbable Grey Cup march.

But the setback allowed Murray to be with his 52-year-old mother when she was unexpectedly admitted into hospital in Steubenville, Ohio, with an autoimmune condition. That was also about the time when Murray and his wife learned they'd be first-time parents as their daughter's due date is April 14.

"I'd say everything happens for a reason," Murray said during a telephone interview. "My injury gave me an opportunity to be with my mom which I wouldn't have necessarily had if I was playing ... and then my wife and I found out she was pregnant.

"(Watching Grey Cup) was undoubtedly the toughest thing I've ever had to do. But I'm a spiritual person and think it all worked out in the end."

Fortunately for Murray, his mother is slowly improving.

"I was able to help take care of her in the hospital, which is one of the best things that could've happened," he said. "I don't ever wish injury on me but I'm grateful it happened when it did.

"She's getting better. It's one of those things where she's got to continue to build her strength but we both live by the motto of one per cent better each day."

The five-foot-eight, 194-pound Murray enjoyed a solid start in 2023, registering 33 tackles, an interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery in six games before his injury. Over five seasons with Montreal, Murray had started 30-of-39 regular-season games, accumulating 119 tackles, six special-teams tackles, seven interceptions (two TD returns), two forced fumbles and a recovery.

Murray, 29, re-signed with Montreal in January.

"Najee was off to a fast start in 2023 before his promising season was cut short by injury," said Kenny Kim of Summit Athletes, Murray's Florida-based agent. "I see him having a great bounce-back 2024 season.

"I enjoy spending time with Najee, he’s a great person to be around. He’s a consummate professional, well respected in the league and I know he’ll be a terrific and loving first-time father."

Murray said he's feeling stronger now than he did before the injury.

"What I miss most is putting on the pads and hitting someone," Murray said. "I can't wait to get out there with the guys, the staff, (head) coach (Jason) Maas.

"We know teams will be trying to beat us and we have to show we're still that team that just won the Grey Cup. But coach Maas is a great coach, he knows how to motivate us and get the most out of us."

Murray was on Montreal's sideline for its stunning 28-24 Grey Cup win over Winnipeg. Not only was it the Alouettes' first CFL title since 2010 but followed an uncertain off-season where the CFL took over the franchise, then sold it a month later to businessman Pierre Karl Peladeau.

And with five regular-season games remaining, Montreal's record was 6-7 following four straight losses. But the Alouettes didn't lose again, reeling off eight consecutive victories.

That included a 38-17 upset of the Toronto Argonauts (16-2) in the East final before downing a Winnipeg squad that was chasing a third title in four years. Murray also missed out on facing Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros, a two-time league MVP who's also from Steubenville.

"I was very thankful we got there, I was thankful we won," Murray said. "Not being able to play, that hurt a lot but now the mindset has switched to it's time to get back and help the team get back there."

This year, though, the Alouettes won't have element of surprise working for them.

"We expect everyone's best game but to me that's exciting," Murray said. "Who doesn't want to play teams who want to come out and give it their all?

"When you've never had something you dream about it, you may want it but you don't really know how that feels. But when you've experienced that feeling, it's like no other and you want to experience it again that much more."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2024.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press