Syracuse, N.Y. – Kids and adults gathered at the Boys and Girls Club on East Fayette Street Monday afternoon to pick up t-shirts, plates full of pizza and assorted food and backpacks.
The event was courtesy of Latavius Murray and Mike Hart, two former Onondaga High School football stars who are still earning a living in the game they love. Hart coaches running backs at Indiana and Murray, about to start his seventh NFL season, will spend his second year with the New Orleans Saints.
The Syracuse giveaway on Monday was the first official “Hart & Tay Train Foundation” collaboration between Murray and Hart. The two have held football camps together but their joint charitable work began Monday at the Boys and Girls Club. Murray said the event was the first of many planned for the Syracuse area.
Murray, 30, spoke by telephone Monday from Florida, where he is working out in preparation for the 2020 NFL season. He recently bought a house just outside Orlando. He and his fiancée, Shauntay, live there with their three children, Major (21 months), Marley (8 months) and Jayde (5). Murray met his fiancée, a Florida native, when he was 12. He still has family in Titusville, Fla.
Back in Syracuse, his mother, Tawanna, wore a “Tay Train” t-shirt and helped with the Monday giveaways.
Latavius Murray has been working out for about a month with Vinny Scollo, Murray’s childhood friend and personal trainer who traveled from Baldwinsville to Florida to help prepare Murray for the NFL season. On the phone Monday, Murray spoke about various topics related to the Black Lives Matter movement, his NFL career and his new MBA from Syracuse University.
On Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his June comment that players should stand for the national anthem out of respect for the flag, without, apparently, understanding that Colin Kaepernick kneeled to protest police brutality and other injustices against Black people. Brees has since apologized:
Murray: “I’ll just say this about it. My parents never taught me to judge off of color, to treat somebody based off color. And in this situation, what Drew said bothered a lot of people and initially, it bothered me. But I know Drew’s heart. Being real honest about it, I know Drew and I think I know what’s on his heart because I’ve had real conversations with him about life, about my family, about my kids — who are people of color. So I judge him off of that and all of the other interactions that we’ve had and not off of the one thing that he said that was just wrong. Not a lot of people can look at it that way and may not agree with me for looking at it that way. But it doesn’t matter what color you are to me. I’ve done things wrong, said things wrong. And I just would hope people will judge me on the man that I am and what’s on my heart. And because Drew is a white man that said that, it doesn’t matter. I’m gonna do the same, judge him off of who I think he is.”
On whether the Brees’ comment and the fallout from it opened better dialogue about the Black Lives Matter movement:
Murray: “No doubt. And I think that’s what this whole thing is all about – sparking conversation, sparking dialogue. It’s about teaching kids, about having those conversations, engaging in conversations with kids that didn’t happen before. The same thing goes now with me when I’m raising my kids. And yeah, my childhood was different from theirs and mine was different from how my parents were raised. But that’s what it’s about – teaching them the right way. It’s not about ‘This is how we’ve been treated so this is how you should act.’ You can’t cure evil with evil. It definitely creates conversation and dialogue that I think is necessary and that Drew and all of us need to have. I think it’s still just the beginning. It’s really going to take time for people to come together and really change the minds and the mentality and all the systematic stuff that has been implanted and ingrained in people for so long.
On his continued charity work, this time near Titusville, where he has been serving meals to people through an organization called Hope for North Brevard:
Murray: “This is basically where my mom and dad grew up and where my brother was born. I lived there until I was 3 before moving to Syracuse. I’ve been serving meals there four days out of the week for the past month. The plan is to do it until the end of July, when I go back to training camp. It’s kind of crazy here, heating up (with coronavirus cases), so we’re trying to make sure we have the right intentions and staying safe with it.
“Hope for North Brevard partnered with me. We have people who sign up and once your name is on the list, we prepare a plate or a meal and deliver it. We have people volunteering to drive up and drop off the meals. It’s for the elderly, to make it easy for them, bring them the meal so they don’t have to go out and about.”
On his mentality going into football camp, which begins at the end of July:
Murray: “I know we have a really good team and we have a lot of weapons, especially on offense. And for me it’s just about winning a Super Bowl. That’s the thing, to be honest, that’s really been on my mind. Early on in your career, I think you play for the love of the game, you play for the best you can be. And all of those things are still the same, but for me now, as I’ve gotten later in my career, there’s one thing that’s important and that’s winning a Super Bowl. We have a really good team to do so and I’m just focused on how I can help make that happen, how I can play my role and be a part of that. And that’s enough for me. I promise.”
On the Saints’ openness to him catching the football (he is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and has always had great hands). Last season, Murray caught 34 passes for 235 yards:
Murray: “I was fortunate in New Orleans that I got the opportunity to show that part of my game. Being with a coach like Coach (Sean) Payton, he allows all of us to do it all. They throw screens to me, they throw passes to me, they kind of let you do it all. I really appreciate that part of it. Last year, I had the opportunity to do so and showed that I’m not just catching it but I’m also a threat after I catch it. I think that will present more opportunities.”
On his acceptance of his role on a team that brings back Alvin Kamara, the starting running back who missed parts of last season with injury:
Murray: “I can do things to help us win. But I’ll be the first to sit down on the bench or play the secondary role or be the leader, I’ll do that if it’s gonna help us win, if that’s what’s needed to win. Because that’s what it’s about. I’ve been the starter, I’ve been the backup. Everyone plays a role. That’s what I’ve learned. You have to have that mentality because there are younger players that look up to you. It’s just about handling it the right way, going about it the right way because everyone has a role and when you understand that, good things happen and you can win.”
On how he’s training during the coronavirus pandemic:
Murray: “It was a process. I had to order some weights, some equipment and it all came in. We’ve gone back to an old school way. It’s as simple as that. Given the times and given what we’ve had to work with, it’s been weight bench, med balls, stuff like that. We’ve got an old school approach to it: Use what we’ve got and get stronger and get better. That’s been cool – less is more. And running, you get a field, all you need to do is run and do your drills, do your football workouts, do your footwork. So we’ve kept it real simple this off-season. But I’ve already noticed a difference. I feel great. And me and Vinny are really, really happy with the progress we’ve made in the gym with what we’ve had to work with.”
On Covid-19 and the impending start of the NFL:
Murray: “It’s been different. I don’t know what the season has in store. I really feel that way and that’s the first time I can honestly say I’ve felt that way. There’s a lot of uncertainty around everyday life, let alone a football season. There’s uncertainty around my kids and day care. I’m just trying to stay safe but at the same time trying to get used to the new normal. And it’s so hard to do. It’s new to everybody. But the main thing is just remembering to stay safe, wear a mask, encourage others to wear a mask and stay clean when you come home – wash your hands, wash your body.”
On his new MBA from Syracuse University and what comes after football. Murray got his undergraduate degree from Central Florida:
Murray: “It started January 2017. Obviously, I only worked on it when I was able to in the off-season, so it’s been a four-year process because I had to break it up. But I officially finished my last residency yesterday. (He’s been to various cities across the U.S. and Europe for multiple-day “residency” seminars on various topics.)
“I really don’t know what I’m going to do after football. I wanted to learn about business. I would hope to think I’m already a businessman. I hope I can continue to impact the youth, give back to Syracuse and my hometown here in Florida. I just want to do something that I’m proud of to be honest. Something that I can call my own and I’m proud of and that I would love to do.”
Donna Ditota is a reporter for the Syracuse Post-Standard and Syracuse.com. Got a comment or idea for a story? Reach her at email@example.com.