CHENEY — Brandon Murphy is playing guard instead of tackle because “God didn’t give me the gift of redirection.”
But the Eastern Washington senior wouldn’t even be in Cheney without a change of course, including an epic recruiting trip in January 2009 that was as much about fishing as football.
After helping Oregon’s West Albany High School to a pair of state titles, Murphy almost signed, sealed and delivered himself to Portland State. But West Albany coach Randy Nyquist, a former PSU running back, admonished Murphy to give the Eagles a chance. Murphy owed them that much: He was sick on the day Eastern assistant Jeff Schmedding visited during a recruiting trip.
So, with his SAT scores still pending, Murphy and his mother took unofficial visits to both schools — on the same weekend.
By the time they arrived in Cheney, “it was so dark you couldn’t see anything,” said Murphy, an avid fisherman who refused to bite on defensive lineman Tyler Jolley’s claims that five lakes are within 10 minutes of downtown Cheney.
“So my mom and I started driving the back roads all morning, and I told myself: ‘This is pretty sweet,’ ” said Murphy, who was hooked, lined and signed to a scholarship to play for EWU.
Five years, 50 games and 36 starts later, Murphy is a part of an all-senior interior line that has been a major factor in a record-breaking offensive year.
Even sweeter, he and his linemates celebrate the end of spring ball every year with a fishing trip.
“It’s been an awesome experience, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Murphy said.
That wasn’t true in September 2010, when Murphy, starting as a redshirt freshman at right tackle against Nevada, was pulled after two series by offensive line coach Aaron Best, a graduate of Curtis High School.
“I went from being his best friend to his worst enemy,” said Best, who added that like many redshirt freshmen, Murphy was better in his own mind than on film.
“Film never lies,” said Best, who gave Murphy the straight scoop: Work harder on the field and in the film room.
In the meantime, Murphy moved to second on the depth chart behind Will Post, who two years later became an All-American.
“We might not have gotten as far if I had started,” Murphy reflected on the Eagles’ championship season in 2010.
The next year, Murphy moved to defense in fall camp, then back to offense in the middle of the Montana game when right guard Jase Butorac suffered a season-ending knee injury. Murphy helped the Eagles lead the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in passing yards with 368.5 per game, but a 6-5 season “wasn’t a winning record in our eyes.”
By 2012, the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Murphy was a fixture at right guard. He also was an all-Big Sky Conference academic selection.
“I’m a straight-ahead guy ... moving guys is my strong suit,” said Murphy, who still had plenty to learn.
Said Best: “His career has gone from being really good in his mind, to now pretty good by the end of his senior year.”
This year, Murphy, 24, is part of a veteran interior line that includes center Ashton Miller and left guard Steven Forgette; together with backup Drew Reynolds (a Foss graduate), they’ve helped the 11-2 Eagles set school records for scoring (526 points), touchdowns (74) and total offense (6,877).
“He’s a lot of fun to be around, and he really cares about his teammates,” said Forgette, who said he also admires Murphy’s competitiveness.
“The mentality we take is that this is the line in the sand,” Murphy said. “If we’re throwing the ball, you’re not going to move past that line, and if it’s a running play, we’re going to move that line.”
Murphy and the Eagles got a big push to start the season. Playing a few miles from his hometown against a team that offered nothing more than a chance to walk on, Murphy helped the Eagles to a landmark 49-46 win against Oregon State.
As he soaked in the atmosphere at Corvallis’ Reser Stadium — site of West Albany’s title-game victory in 2008 — Murphy rejoiced with dozens of friends, family and high school teammates, many of whom attend OSU.
“It was just an amazing feeling,” said Murphy, who bookended the regular season with a 42-41 win over Portland State.
The only thing better would be another national title. The next step comes Saturday in a home quarterfinal game against Jacksonville State.
“Teams throw everything they can at us, but we know that if we can protect (quarterback Vernon Adams), he can do anything with the ball,” Murphy said. “We’re a threat to take it to the house every play.”
After the season ends, Murphy will graduate next term with a degree in construction technology, then probably move back to the Willamette Valley.
“And if everything works out, I’ll be back every Saturday, rooting for the Eagles,” he said.