Murphy keeps breaking barriers

From the time he became a college football prospect, Tyler Murphy was breaking one barrier or another in the sport he loved. Playing in the state of Connecticut, he already had something against him. The Constitution State doesn't produce a great quantity of football stars so getting big time schools to look that direction isn't easy. Well, all eyes are on Murphy now.

A suburb of Hartford , Connecticut, Tyler Murphy's home town of Wethersfield and the surrounding county house about 27,000 people. A state not known for shelling out handfuls of big time football players, Murphy says his official trip to Florida in 2010 was a memorable one.

"Back home in Connecticut, football probably isn't the biggest sport," Murphy told the media earlier in the week. "I remember I came down here and learned that football is bigger in Florida. Connecticut is more of a basketball state."

Lucky for Murphy, Florida already had some recruiting success in the state of Connecticut. The Gators signed Aaron Hernandez out of Connecticut back in 2007 and followed that by signing quarterback Jordan Reed. Both would end up drafted in the NFL.

Florida's head coach then was Urban Meyer and one of his better recruiters was just promoted offensive coordinator Steve Addazio who just happened to recruit Connecticut and the Northeast for the Gators. Still it wasn't easy for a dual threat quarterback from Connecticut to get noticed.

"I wasn't a highly recruited guy," Murphy said. "I was recruited by a lot of local schools in my area. I didn't really know how to get my name out there at all. But I attended a couple of camps and stuff like that. Luckily I was able to get a call from Coach Addazio and Coach Meyer. They had me come down for a visit and they offered me. So it was a blessing."

Dual threat was the right term for Murphy during his high school days. He finished his high school career with 2,785 yards, 23 touchdowns and 22 interceptions through the air to go along with 2,558 yards and 36 touchdowns on the ground. Before Meyer and Addazio had him in for a visit he got noticed by a few schools and only one other was willing to offer him a scholarship as a quarterback.

"UConn offered me as an athlete," he said. "They wanted me to play defense. Syracuse offered me as an athlete. Temple was at quarterback. A few I-AA schools offered me as well."

He was hell bent on playing the position he loved and not willing to change positions.

"I wasn't happy about (the thought of playing another position)," he said. "I played quarterback all my life. I wanted to continue playing quarterback. It was just something I thought I was good enough to do at the next level, so I didn't want to sell myself short."

He went with the offer at quarterback and committed publicly to Temple. Current Miami head coach Al Golden was in the same position at Temple at the time. Shortly after, things would change.

"Florida called me a few days after I committed (to Temple) and they told me they wanted me to come down for a visit," Murphy said. "Me and my dad talked and we thought it would be a good idea to call Temple and let them know. So we called Coach Golden and told him we were going to consider taking a visit to Florida. He said he would encourage that because it was a program that not many get chances, a place that not too many people get a chance to play at. So he was very encouraging and he was really helpful to the process."

It has taken almost four years to finally get on the field and take meaningful snaps. When Murphy entered the game last week against Tennessee after the injury to starter Jeff Driskel, he finally threw his first pass in a game as a Florida Gator. The time in between was tough and more than wanting real bad to get on the field, there were times when he felt like he should possibly play another position to help the team he was part of.

"Yeah, it was definitely a thought in the back of my head," he said of switching positions in the last three plus years. "Sitting on the bench isn't fun, especially when say there's a game where the team is struggling. You kind of feel bad because you want to go out there and do something to help the team win, especially when you feel like you can contribute. It was tough." But it was never a thought for Will Muschamp and his staff. They liked Murphy as a quarterback and urged him to stick it out at the position believing that a guy that works as hard as he does will shine if and when he gets his chance.

"The coaches didn't really address me changing positions at all," he said. "They felt like I had done a good job at quarterback, and I'd continue to develop and grow as a player and stuff like that. They were just very encouraging. They were just saying, ‘Keep working hard. Your time will come. Be patient.'"

"There have been times where I felt like giving up, and I mean, my family, my friends, my teammates have always been there telling me to keep working hard. The coaches they'll come up to me and say 'you're looking good, keep working, you never know when your chance is going to come.' I was blessed with an opportunity this week."

Murphy's game against Tennessee is well documented. Inserted late in the first quarter with a 7-0 deficit the Gators leaned on a fiercely stingy defense and tried to slowly work Murphy into settling down and playing. Murphy took the task right away and was able to convert on two tough third down conversions in his first series of the game, before finally having to punt.

Eventually the junior quarterback was able to direct the offense to 31 points and the victory over the Volunteers. But, instead of basking in the glory of the win, Murphy wanted to get right to work figuring out how he can do things better the next time out, his first game as the starter at Florida.

"After the game I was kind of anxious to watch the film, see how I did," he said. "I was just kind of thinking about how I would have to adapt to being the starter and stuff like that, taking on a new role. Just ways I could just really excel being a leader. You know, Jeff was the main guy, and I tried to help him out as much as possible, but I didn't want to interfere or step on toes because it was his team. Now that he's out, next guy in line, so I'm just thinking about ways that I could help this team to continue to have success."

If you ask his teammates privately they would tell you that Murphy was always one of the hardest workers on and off the field in terms of preparation to play. This included last year when he was actually the third teamer at the position. He believes he would have done well, but not so sure on that one.

"I'm not 100 percent sure," he said. "You never know really until the situation actually comes about, but I think last year I did a pretty good job preparing as if I was the starter. I worked really hard. I was helping out with the scout team, so I was going against the best defense in the country. I'm not sure how I would have done, but I'm just happy for the opportunity."

His chance came at a good time. He now feels prepared to lead the Gators.

"Yeah, it definitely did (happen at a good time)," he said. "The timing lined up. I definitely got a lot more reps in camp this spring than I got last year because of the competition going on. Things definitely lined up for me, and it's a blessing."

The timing was good only in the sense that he feels comfortable in the role. The reason for the move up is something that left a bad taste in his mouth. To see a fallen teammate go down with a season ending injury isn't easy.

"It was tough to see him go down," Murphy said of Driskel. "Anytime you spend a lot of time with someone in the meeting room, off the field, setting up players' practices in the summer, stuff like that, it's just tough because you know we kind of built a good little relationship. I texted him and told him I wish him the best, hopefully he can get healthy and get back out as soon as possible. He said ‘it's your time now'. He was very encouraging. He said he just was just going to help me along the way."

Murphy understands his role on this team which has a terrific defense and special teams, a team with an offense that is still trying to find its way. His job is to manage the offense, be efficient, and don't give the ball and game away with turnovers.

"That plays a big factor in quarterback here," Murphy said. "We have a really good defense, one of the best in the country. When I go out there, I'm just trying to manage, get the team in the right plays, take care of the ball, make the right throws. I'm not trying to go out there and be a hero, because we do have one of the best defenses and we also have one of the best punters. If there's a third-and-long situation and the deep throw's not there, I'm not going to hesitate to throw the check-down."

His first start as a Florida Gator comes Saturday on the road at Kentucky. The guy that has broken all kinds of barriers in front of him is facing a reality and dream and is ready to take the challenge head on. "I'll have butterflies, I'm sure," he said. "I'll be anxious, but, you know, I'll get out there and maybe complete my first pass. Once I get hit, I think I'll be fine. But I don't think it will be as bad as it was this week."

A student of the game and of the moment, Murphy plans on relying on one of the best sources he has on the personnel at Kentucky. Florida receiver coach Joker Phillips was the head coach in Lexington a year ago and knows most of the personnel that will be on the opposite sideline and playing in the game.

"I'm going to ask him a lot of questions about their defense," Murphy said of Coach Phillips. "He recruited a majority of those guys, and so he knows their weaknesses and their strengths. So I think it's important for me to really pick his brain, you know, and get insight on how he feels about the players." This is the kind of quarterback Murphy is. He is the consummate studier and will look for the little things in the game to make things better. This includes taking notes on some of football's best to play the game.

"I enjoy football and stuff like that, so I like to watch a lot of the pro guys, see how they do things and try (copycatting) them," he said. "Drew Brees. I'm a big fan of Drew Brees. Just the way he leads the guys and guys follow him. His pregame chants, stuff like that is kind of cool."

Is that yelling and getting his team fired up something he would incorporate as the leader?

"I don't know," he said. "I'm not really that kind of person. Before the game, I'm more kind of to myself trying to focus and just get ready. But I'm definitely going to try to take some things that he's done. He encourages the guys to do well and stuff like that. I'm definitely going to try to keep encouraging my teammates to excel."

He seems more comfortable while on the field and in charge. It was easy to see last week after the offense was lined up, Murphy would change the call at the line of scrimmage based on what the defense was showing him. It was something unexpected of most quarterbacks taking the field for their first real playing time.

"I felt pretty comfortable," Murphy said. "I mean, we had two weeks to prepare as a team for Tennessee, so I was able to really get a good grasp of the game plan. So going in this week, it's going to be a little different to only get one week. I'm really going to have to pay attention and focus on the little details and try to get everything, try to feel comfortable going into this game."

For Murphy it is business as usual at practice. As mentioned before he has always been one of the hardest workers on the team and prepared like he was going to take every snap.

"Now that I know I'm the starter, I'm probably going to do a little bit more than I have been, but I've been preparing as if I was the starter for a long time now," he said. "Other than that, I don't think much changes for me." He also knows that given his 84 rushing yards on Saturday and using his feet to make plays, the Wildcats will prepare for that.

"I would probably consider myself more of a dual threat just because I feel like I can make plays on my feet when things break down. I know this week, going into the game, Kentucky will be well-prepared for if things do go wrong, I'm going to try to do things with my feet. This week in practice, I really have to work on finding ways to attack them through the air and stuff like that."

With all of the running comes the risk of injury. Murphy showed Saturday that he was adept at getting the most yardage possible and then sliding to safety avoiding the hard hit.

"They have been encouraging us to do that since Day One, he said of sliding. "It's a physical league. Defenses are going to come after the quarterback. It's their goal to knock them out. You don't want to give them a chance to get a good hit on you. Coaches have always been preaching to get out of bounds when the sideline is there, get down if nothing else. Just take care of the ball. It can be a big momentum changer if they do get a big hit on the quarterback."

The Gators enter Saturday with a 26 game winning streak in the series with Kentucky. There has been a lot going on this week with the team with regards to injuries and the like, but the staff wants Murphy and the team to focus on the game against an SEC opponent. "(Strength coach) Dillman reminded us this is another SEC opponent," Murphy said. "If we lose this game, we'll take a step back from reaching our goal, which is to play in Atlanta. Coach Muschamp is always preaching to us about nameless and faceless opponents. Kentucky is a good team. We all know that. They had a good game two weeks ago against Louisville and their high-powered offense. We know that we're going to have to get to work right away and really just focus and pay attention."

Focus and attention, that is Murphy's game.

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