Freshman Growing into Devil backer Role

For nearly three years now, Arizona State coaches and players have praised the training methods of Strength and Conditioning Coach Shawn Griswold and his staff. Freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson has quickly, and not so quietly, become the latest example of Griswold’s work, adding 30 pounds in just a few shorts months since arriving at ASU as he continues to grow into his Devil backer position.

Coming out of high school, Ismael Murphy-Richardson was somewhat of an unknown commodity. He starred at Desert Edge High School in Goodyear, AZ where as a senior he registered 61 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, three interceptions and had two fumble recoveries for touchdowns while earning First-Team Arizona All-State Division III honors.

Scout.com rated Murphy-Richardson as the number 11 outside linebacker and number 65 overall prospect in the West region in last year’s recruiting class. At 6-4 and 200 pounds, he was tall and a bit lanky, but oozed the kind of natural athleticism that command attention. Despite reportedly receiving offers from Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas A&M, the Valley native pledged to Arizona State in mid-January, giving Graham and the Sun Devils the prototypical hybrid athlete to mold into the Devil backer position.

With the departure of two year starter Carl Bradford, the early speculation heading into the offseason was that Murphy-Richardson could compete for a spot on the two-deep depth chart for the 2014 season with a strong showing in the team’s summer workouts and Fall camp. Unfortunately for Murphy-Richardson, his arrival in Tempe was delayed after the NCAA called into question the classification of one of his high school courses.

While he waited for approval from the NCAA Clearinghouse, Murphy-Richardson was unable to practice with his new team, setting back his hopes of making an impact in 2014 and leaving the Sun Devils without a Devil backer to fill the void left by Bradford. By the time he was cleared by the NCAA, the decision had come that Murphy-Richardson would be better served redshirting in 2014, serving as a disappointment to the player.

“It’s hard because I’ve never actually sat on the sidelines my entire career playing football,” he said Friday after practice. “But I got used to it. I decided it’s going to make me better in the long run and I think it has.”

After brushing off his initial disappointment, Murphy-Richardson got to work. He immersed himself in the training of Griswold, determined to develop his body from an outside linebacker into one equipped to handle the rigors of playing along the line of scrimmage at the college level.

In just a few short months, the transformation is noticeable, if not shocking.

“I’ve basically gained 30 pounds,” said Murphy-Richardson, who now officially tips the scale at 230. “I got a lot stronger thanks to (Coach Griswold) and all the conditioning we do. Just keep plugging away. I mean, I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger than I was my senior year, so I’ve just got to keep progressing.”

Aside from the heavy lifting, and there’s been plenty of that, the redshirt freshman credits the Griswold’s regimented high-protein diets for his significant gains.

“Just making sure I eat right and making sure I lift,” he said. “I try to do as much extra lifting as I can just to get stronger and put on more muscle and then it’s just eating right and keeping food in my body because that can be a problem sometimes.”

Murphy-Richardson’s physical transformation has also carried over to the football field where he quickly became one of the standouts on this season’s scout team, often earning praise from Graham and other observers.

On Friday, after a two week layoff since the last time the Sun Devils hit the field together, Murphy-Richardson practiced with the third team defense, earning a good bulk of reps during team drills. While he was overwhelmed at times by confusion and mental frustration, Murphy-Richardson also showed flashes of the raw talent and potential that lies within.

His speed - Murphy-Richardson also played wide receiver at Desert Edge, catching 32 passes for 742 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior - served him well in pursuit and getting up field. The challenge now, he says, is learning how to play with one hand on the ground, something he never did in high school.

“My stance, because in high school I was a two-point linebacker and now I’m a three-point,” said Murphy-Richardson. “My get-off is fast, I’ve just got to make sure my steps (are) right, keep my hands in the right place and just whip tail.

“Really just getting used to having my hand down every play and getting my head up and hands up. I’ve got to work on getting them up and getting them on the next guy.”

Arizona State graduated just two starters from a defense that finished the regular season eighth in both total defense (418.5) and points allowed (27.7) in 2014 but grew by leaps and bounds as the season wore on. With a dependable Devil backer in place for 2015, the Sun Devils could become a defensive force in the Pac-12 next season; something Murphy-Richardson says motivates him and the rest of the young Sun Devil defense.

“We have high ceilings for what we’re capable of doing,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep working hard, keep our minds focused and do what we’re supposed to.

“I love being a Sun Devil. It’s just made my dreams come true so far. I can’t ask for nothing more.”


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