Najee Murray of Alouettes was grateful that his injury allowed him to care for his mother

“I would say everything happens for a reason,” Murray says.

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It cost her the chance to play in the Gray Cup, but Najee Murray is grateful her season-ending injury occurred at that time.

Murray’s 2023 campaign ended on July 30 when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle in Montreal’s 25-18 victory over the Calgary Stampeders. He required surgery, forcing him to witness the Alouettes’ improbable Gray Cup run.

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But the setback allowed Murray to be with his 52-year-old mother when she was unexpectedly admitted to a hospital in Steubenville, Ohio, with an autoimmune disease. That was also the moment Murray and his wife found out they would be first-time parents, as his daughter’s due date is April 14.

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“I would say everything happens for a reason,” Murray said during a phone interview. “My injury gave me the opportunity to be with my mom, something I wouldn’t necessarily have had if she was playing…and then my wife and I found out she was pregnant.

“(Watching the Gray Cup) was without a doubt the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. But I am a spiritual person and I think everything turned out well in the end.”

Fortunately for Murray, his mother is slowly getting better.

“I was able to help take care of her in the hospital, which is one of the best things that could have happened,” he said. “I never want to be hurt, but I’m grateful it happened when it did.

“She is improving. It’s one of those things where she has to keep getting stronger, but we both live by the motto of being one percent better every day.”

The five-foot-eight, 194-pound Murray enjoyed a solid start in 2023, recording 33 tackles, one interception, one 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 touchdown returns), two forced fumbles and one recovery.

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

“Najee got 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 recovery in the 2024 season.

“I enjoy spending time with Najee, he is a great person. He is a consummate professional, highly respected in the league and I know he will be a fantastic and loving first-time father.”

Murray said he feels stronger now than before the injury.

“What I miss the most is putting the pads on and hitting someone,” Murray said. “I can’t wait to hang out with the guys, the staff and coach (Jason) Maas.

“We know that teams will try to beat us and we have to show that we are still that team that just won the Gray 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 sidelines during their surprising 28-24 Gray Cup victory over Winnipeg. Not only was it the Alouettes’ first CFL title since 2010, but it followed an uncertain offseason in which the CFL took over the franchise and then sold it a month later to businessman Pierre Karl Peladeau.

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And with five games remaining in the regular season, Montreal’s record was 6-7 after four straight losses. But the Alouettes did not lose again and added eight consecutive victories.

That included a 38-17 loss to the Toronto Argonauts (16-2) in the East final before defeating a Winnipeg team chasing a third title in four years. Murray also couldn’t face Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros, a two-time league MVP and also from Steubenville.

“I’m very grateful to have gotten there, I’m grateful to have won,” Murray said. “Not being able to play hurt me a lot, but now the mentality has changed and it’s time to go back and help the team get back there.”

This year, however, the Alouettes won’t have the element of surprise in their favor.

“We’re hoping for everyone’s best game, but to me that’s exciting,” Murray said. “Who doesn’t want to play against teams that want to go out and give their all?

“When you’ve never had something you dream of, you may want it, but you don’t really know what it feels like. But when you’ve experienced that feeling, it’s like no other and you want to experience it all the more.”

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