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Former Avon All-State linebacker fulfills dream to play Div. I football at Miami

Avon High graduate Jimmy Murphy is a captain with the University of Miami football team. Murphy was visiting the Falcons earlier this season on an off day.

It was a warm September day in Miami and the University of Miami football team was doing what big-time programs do to smaller opponents – running all over them.

The Hurricanes had a 56-0 lead over Bethune Cookman University when Avon High graduate Jimmy Murphy was called to take the field with the Miami offense. Murphy, a 5-foot-7 redshirt senior, normally plays on special teams on kickoff and punt coverage.

But there he was lining up behind quarterback Jauven Williams at Hard Rock Stadium. He gained six yards on his first collegiate carry. He got another seven yards on his second carry. Three plays later, he scored his first collegiate touchdown on a four-yard run.

Murphy ran into the line, bounced off a tackle and took off to his right and into the end zone. And to the surprise of no one who has watched the energetic Murphy over the years, he celebrated with gusto.

He ran to celebrate with his teammates before accidentally hit the head by a teammate and knocked to the ground. But Murphy popped right up on his feet and did a flip on the 15-yard line to celebrate.

“It just came to me,” Murphy said of the flip. “I was just so excited. It was in the moment.

“I’m pretty sure it’s like when your child is born,” he said after scoring the touchdown. “That’s how much it meant to me and I am certain I will have that feeling for the rest of my life.”

Murphy is thrilled just to be a member of the program. “I love this program,” he said. “Whether it is handing out water to the players or scoring a touchdown. I will do whatever coach (Manny) Diaz needs. I mean, there is nothing like being a Miami Hurricane.”

It was a long journey for Murphy to get from Avon to Miami. He was a two-time All-State linebacker at Avon and won a Class M title in wrestling as a junior – the only season he competed on the mat.

While Murphy played full speed all the time, he received little interest from collegiate coaches.

He played one year at Hyde School in Woodstock to get stronger and to improve his grades. He ran for more than 1,800 yards and scored 30 touchdowns. He had 341 yards and scored 5 TDs in Hyde’s 61-46 win over Kingswood-Oxford in the New England Prep School Athletic Council’s (NEPSAC) Mike Atkins Bowl in 2014 – the first-ever bowl win for Hyde.

Murphy was selected to the All-New England team and was named the New England player of the year.

He enrolled at Wagner College on Long Island and played junior varsity football in 2015. But with no scholarship offer, Murphy moved on. He spent some time at Central Connecticut State working on his grades.

Murphy had applied to Miami after high school but wasn’t accepted. But he tried again and was admitted to the school. And the dream of playing for the Hurricanes was alive.

“They didn’t know anything about me,” he said. “I was outside of the practice facility every day seeing if I could get a coach to give me a walk-on tryout. I went back every day until I found a coach.”

Todd Hartley — now the coach at Georgia – was a special teams coordinator for Miami at the time. Murphy got the tryout and made the team. He spent 2017 as a practice player with the Hurricanes.

His effort, his drive and his determination helped him earn a scholarship in October 2018 where he played regularly on special teams and was named the special teams captain. He led special teams in tackles in 2018.

But Miami head coach Mark Richt retired and Murphy wondered if he would keep his scholarship. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was promoted to head coach and agreed to keep Murphy on scholarship for his final season.

Murphy, who is No. 29 in your program, is again a captain. He has eight tackles this season and one fumble recovery after a fumble on a punt return against Louisville. He has rushed five times for 18 yards and one touchdown.

“He’s all about the team,” Williams said. “He is very selfless. He gives his all every day. He could have a broken hand and he would still give 120 percent. He gets us all going.”

Miami (6-4) has two regular season games remaining. They host Florida International on Saturday at the Orange Bowl and complete the regular season on Saturday, Nov. 30 at Duke.

“It’s just an awesome feeling to be a Miami Hurricane. It’s unbelievable,” Murphy said.

When it was suggested that his story was similar to Notre Dame’s Rudy Ruettiger, whose journey from walk-on to team member that was immortalized in the 1993 movie classic “Rudy”, Murphy said these are two different stories.

Avon’s Jimmy Murphy (36) ran for more than 1,000 yards and scored 25 touchdowns as a senior at Avon High in 2013.

Murphy used that speed and passion at Avon. He ran for a team-leading 1,140 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior. He also caught 24 passes for 346 yards and five touchdowns.

Defensively, he had 310 career tackles in his first three seasons with 17½ sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and six fumble recoveries. Defensive stats from his senior season are not available. Murphy led the team in tackles as a junior (142) and as a sophomore (131).

His passion helped the Falcons come up with an improbable comeback against North Branford in his senior year (2013) as Avon scored two touchdowns in the final 26 seconds of the game to earn the win.

Avon trailed the Thunderbirds by 11 points going into the fourth quarter when Murphy scored on a 37-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to five points, 32-27. The Thunderbirds scored again to stretch the lead to 11, 38-27.

Murphy scored on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Noah Hahn with 26.6 seconds to go to cut the ball to five points, 38-33. The two-point conversion failed but the onside kick from Avon kicker John Burdick bounced off a North Branford defender and Murphy leaped into the air to grab the ball and advance it about 10 yards to the Avon 46-yard line.

Murphy’s 28-yard pass from Hahn set up the game-winning score – a 26-yard TD pass from Hahn to Justin Reichler with 11 seconds remaining.

In a game against Gilbert/Northwestern in his senior year, Murphy took a short pass from Hahn that was meant to pick up a few yards. At point, he was surrounded by four Gilbert defenders but Murphy wouldn’t go down. She shook off a few attempted tackles and weaved his way 70 yards downfield for the touchdown.

Jimmy Murphy (36) hurdles a Cromwell defender to score a touchdown during a game at Avon High in 2013.

His wrestling skills helped him weave his way downfield. Murphy began wrestling with his brother, Joey, which he was a youngster. He finished third in a national tournament at Penn State at the age of five. Yes. Five.

“There is nothing like a wrestling practice,” Murphy’s father, Joseph said. “If you can get through that (wrestling practice), you can take a football practice.”

Injuries robbed Murphy of the opportunity to wrestle at Avon as a freshman (concussion) and sophomore (broken hand from football). As a junior, he was 38-3 and a Class M champion. He finished second at the State Open. Jimmy and Joey Murphy became just the 11th pair of brothers to win wrestling state titles on the same day in 2014.

“Wrestling is what made who I am today,” Murphy said. “Wrestling helped me grow as an athlete. The sport is so empowering. You learn to be (disciplined) whether it is waking up early to make weight or being disciplined in the classroom. Wrestling teaches you all of that.”

Murphy is a pre-med student at Miami and hopes to be accepted into Miami’s medical school. His collegiate football career is coming to a close.

But he’ll be playing at 120 percent – as per usual.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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