At his first High Point High School track practice, Mario Murray — without a hint of shyness — walked up to his coach, who didn’t yet know Murray’s name.
“He said, ‘Coach, I want to go to Ohio State,’” High Point coach Omar Sharief said. “I said, ‘Boy, go run.’”
Murray ran (sometimes reluctantly) and ran (with less prodding) and ran (with more enthusiasm than ever). Now a junior, he’s transformed himself into one of Prince George’s County’s top runners. He won the 300 meters at the indoor county meet and 4A East regional meet, and between, he ran a personal-best 35.69 at the Virginia Tech High School Invitational.
“The kid knows what he wants to do, and he’s willing to put in the work to get it done,” Sharief said. “So, I give him all the credit.”
Murray became an Ohio State fan after watching an Ohio State-Wisconsin football game, and he considers former Buckeye Jesse Owens his favorite athlete. Though Murray knows he might never reach Columbus, he uses Ohio State as a goal and appreciates just the chance to work toward that target.
Born in Jamaica, Murray moved to Maryland during his seventh-grade year. He bought American Flag socks at the Penn Relays last year, and he’s worn them for each important race — except Virginia Tech “because my mom washed them without telling me” — since.
“I’m in America,” Murray said. “So, every time I run, I have to do it for America. Because I’m here and all the opportunities and stuff, I decided, every big meet, I should wear them.”
Murray didn’t wear the socks at the P.G. Invitational on Jan. 10, when he won the 200-meter dash.
“He came to me, and he said, ‘This my first medal at my first big meet,’” Sharief said. “And I was like, ‘It’s not really a big meet.’ He goes, ‘You’re right. We’ve got counties and states coming up.’”
Murray’s claims can run boastful — though he backed up the aforementioned one with a county title — but he lines them with a light, humorous touch.
One time, Sharief saw Murray leaving a carry-out restaurant after practice.
“I hope you got Mumbo sauce,” Sharief texted.
“Nah, coach,” Murray texted back. “I’ve got ketchup. I’m on a diet.”
Murray, known for his over-the-top reactions to even the slightest cramp, has bought into Sharief’s methods. Initially, Murray wanted to run only the shortest dashes, but Sharief has pushed Murray’s comfort zone.
“I didn’t used to love to run a long distance, because I didn’t think I was strong enough,” Murray said. “But I guess he tricked me into running it.”
Sharief would tell Murray to run a 100, then another 100, then another 100. Before Murray knew it, he had run 300 meters.
Now, he’ll run those middle distances without complaint.
“Every morning, I wake up like, I’ll go to practice, and I’ll know there’s someone out there trying to work harder than me,” Murray said. “So, it’s my duty to work harder and fight.”