LITTLE ROCK — Fascinated by the official one-line synopsis of Tyler Murphy’s college career — a redshirt who has played in three games — I wanted more and the additional info was telling.
During 2010, he “played an important role on scout teams.” The next year, we are told, he participated in two games and was a “pivotal part of the Gators’ scout teams.” In 2012, he played against South Carolina, lining up at wide receiver, and “dressed for all 13 games, serving as the team’s third quarterback.”
Plainly put, a scholarship on the road to wasted.
When I looked up his stats, he had none until two weeks ago. Technically, that is erroneous. In the second week of the season, he attempted a two-point conversion pass that failed.
Digging deeper, Murphy’s story is that of a career-long understudy who succeeds on the big stage after the star breaks a leg … literally. If this young man — an afterthought of a recruit from a Connecticut community that hasn’t produced a major Division I football player in decades — was not aligned with the blue and orange empire based in Gainesville, even Arkansas fans would be cheering for the guy.
Gleaned from FoxSports.com, and newspapers in Miami and Palm Beach, the details are worth repeating.
As a senior in Wethersfield, Murphy played quarterback, returned kicks, and even went on defense when needed, according to his coach, John Campanello. Syracuse thought he could play wide receiver; UConn envisioned him as a safety. Rated a “two star” by one recruiting service, he committed to Temple where he was half-heartedly promised a shot at quarterback.
The fact that Florida, perennial home of Top 10 recruiting classes, would sign a quarterback ignored by other big-time programs raised questions enough that there were stories about the why.
A popular theory is that Florida signed him as a favor to his father who was friends with Steve Addazio, the Gators’ offensive coordinator at the time. Not so, says Murphy’s father, who gives credit to Travis Meyer, Murphy’s private trainer during high school and the man who trained Jordan Reed, who went to Florida as a quarterback and became a tight end.
Murphy’s already lowly status on the Florida depth chart took a hit his second year on campus when Jeff Driskel, the No. 1 high school quarterback in the country, according to one service, arrived. That same year, a four-star named Jacoby Brissett also became a Gator. After the 2012 season, Brissett decided he did not get a fair shake and transferred to North Carolina State, where he is supposed to be the starter in 2014.
By default, Murphy was No. 2 and even took snaps with the first team after Driskel underwent an appendectomy in late July. But, there was no doubt Driskel was No. 1.
During his extended wait, Murphy was encouraged to switch positions by some and to switch schools by others.
“Whatever decision he made, it was based on ‘Can I play quarterback,’” his high school coach said. “That was the goal he set for himself.”
Five minutes deep in the Tennessee game on Sept. 21, the old saying that “good things comes to those who wait” surfaced. On an interception that the Vols returned for a 7-0 lead, Driskel broke his leg.
Suddenly the man, Murphy completed 8-of-14 for 134 yards and a touchdown and carried 10 times for 84 yards and another TD in a 14-point victory. Given a week to build up some butterflies, he was 15-of-18 for 156 on mostly low-risk passes and ran seven times for another 36 yards in a 24-7 decision over Kentucky.
Saturday’s game will be one of the few this year in which Arkansas has the more experienced quarterback. In 13 quarters this year, Brandon Allen has completed 11 more passes than Murphy has attempted in his career.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.