Ravens hope to turn former forward Murphy Holloway into a football player

On a recent sunny, picturesque Sunday morning in Owings Mills, there was a flurry of activity on the practice fields outside the Ravens' team facility. Bird songs occasionally pierced the chirping of whistles, whirring of portable generators and the grunts of large men bumping into each other.

The Ravens were wrapping up their three-day rookie minicamp, and their new 10-man draft class, dozens of undrafted rookie free agents and a handful of 2012 practice squad members were buzzing as coaches conducted drills at several different stations across the practice fields.


But off to the side of a blocking drill, Murphy Holloway was completely still.

The former Mississippi basketball standout, who just six weeks ago played in the NCAA tournament, was awkwardly hunched over with one hand on the ground, learning the proper way to stand in a three-point stance thanks to some hands-on, one-on-one coaching from Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

"It's a tough adjustment," the head coach said after practice. "The thing about Murphy is he's got some skills. He can catch, he can run. He's got nice ball skills. He showed that. He has no problem snatching the ball. The rest of it — just everything from his stance to understanding the plays and all that, the way you move in football — is a little different than in basketball."

With rosters expanded to 90 players throughout the offseason, the Ravens are giving Holloway an opportunity to transform from the all-time leading rebounder in Mississippi history to a tight end in the NFL. The hope is that he can one day become the next Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates or Jimmy Graham — former basketball players who blossomed into Pro Bowl tight ends.

The Ravens know they will have to be patient, though, as Holloway hasn't played organized football since 10th grade and spent much of the weekend watching and learning the basics.

"I like football, man. I like getting better. And I don't mind working," the 6-foot-6, 240-pound former forward said after folding up his long limbs to take a seat in the shade on a brick staircase.

It is that size, along with his athleticism, leaping ability and a wide wingspan, that intrigued the Ravens and other NFL teams — including Chicago, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay — who projected him as a potential pass-catching tight end and red-zone weapon.

"I came here because I felt they had a great plan for me," Holloway said. "They understood that I'm coming straight from basketball. It's going to take me more time than some of these other guys."


Holloway played both basketball and football as a sophomore at Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, S.C.. But when his grades slipped in his junior year, he was unable to play football. By the time his senior year rolled around, he had the attention of college basketball recruiters and was later named South Carolina's Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year.

He pulled down 1,093 rebounds in four years at Mississippi and scored 1,476 points, becoming the 21st player in SEC history with 1,400 points and 1,000 rebounds. As a senior, Holloway led the Rebels in rebounds and was second in scoring.

Holloway was approached during his senior year by an NFL scout who suggested he consider giving football a try. The scout followed up with him after his college career ended in late March with a loss to La Salle in the third round of the NCAA tournament, and Holloway figured it was worth a shot.

"There are certain things that I can take from the basketball court and put it over here," he said.

Many Ravens players have high school basketball backgrounds, including fifth-round draft pick Rick Wagner and undrafted wide receiver Tori Gurley, whom Holloway knows from South Carolina.

But Harbaugh and the Ravens have tried to convert college basketball players into contributors before.


In 2008, Harbaugh's first season, the Ravens signed former Western Michigan basketball player Joe Reitz as an undrafted rookie free agent. Like Holloway, the Ravens initially planned for him to play tight end, but they eventually moved him to the offensive line. The Ravens released Reitz in 2010, but he has been with the Indianapolis Colts the past three seasons, starting 17 games.

"Joe is a guy that we had. Obviously, around the league, Gates is the obvious example but there have been guys who have done it before. Jimmy Graham played a year in college before he did it. Guys can do it," Harbaugh said.

The conversion is difficult, though, as former George Mason power forward Jai Lewis can probably attest to. The Aberdeen native signed with the New York Giants after George Mason's run to the Final Four in 2006, but after spring workouts, Lewis ditched the gridiron and headed back to the hardwood to play professionally overseas.

In addition to Holloway, the Ravens also showed interest in Demetrius Harris, a power forward from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Holloway is still eligible to be drafted in next month's NBA draft and had been told he could be selected in the bottom half of the second round. But he is convinced that a brighter future lies in football, so he plans to stick with the Ravens as long as they are willing to have him around.

"I'm going to put all of my heart and soul into this thing right here," he said.

Holloway feels comfortable running routes and snatching passes, but most else feels foreign to him. His technique is being tinkered with by coaches, who have started calling him "B-ball." He is trying to wrap his head around blocking schemes. He was taught how to read a playbook. The terminology, like differentiating between a "Sam" and "Mike" linebacker, is slowly coming along.

"When I came out here, it was like I was learning a new language," the 23-year-old said.

Still, all Holloway saw after his first foray into professional football was blue skies and sunshine.

"So far 2013 has been a good year for me," he said, grinning. "I won the SEC championship in basketball, made the [NCAA] tournament, got a win. I'm graduating next Saturday. I'll come back here next Sunday and get back to work."