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Gators quarterback Tyler Murphy makes his first career start on Saturday night at Kentucky.

Friday September 27, 2013Murphy's Moment: The Job Tyler Murphy Has Prepared for is Finally His

Gators quarterback Tyler Murphy makes his first career start on Saturday night at Kentucky.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Peter Murphy wanted to be here Saturday night. He wanted to be at Commonwealth Stadium for Florida's game at Kentucky. He wanted to watch Florida's No. 3 make his first career start.

But duty calls.

Instead of watching son Tyler Murphy take his first snap as the Gators' starting quarterback in person, Peter will find a good spot back home in Wethersfield, Conn. -- a suburb located a few miles south of downtown Hartford -- to watch the game.

"I'll be the nervous guy chewing my fingernails,'' he said. "I shouldn't be that hard to find."

And then on Sunday, Lt. Peter C. Murphy of the Hartford Fire Department will report to work at Company 14 on Blue Hills Avenue for his regular shift in charge of Ladder 4.

The schedule was too difficult to adjust on short notice for Murphy to make Florida's SEC road opener against the Wildcats.

Murphy isn't complaining, though. He has attended nearly every Gators home game the past three years, including last week's win over Tennessee.

Each trip to Gainesville he wondered if this would be the game Tyler finally gets to play quarterback. The answer was always no.

That was until last weekend.

Peter was sitting behind the Florida band in the lower north end zone when Gators starting quarterback Jeff Driskel went down with a season-ending leg injury early in the first quarter.

Murphy was in full fan mode until the play Driskel got hurt. Suddenly, he realized what was about to happen.

Tyler, a redshirt junior who had watched five quarterbacks take snaps for the Gators since he arrived, started to prepare to take his first.

"Prior to him going into the game I was over there yelling with the band,'' Peter said. "Then he gets in the game and I got nervous. I couldn't really enjoy the game."

He had nothing to worry about.

Tyler came on in relief to lead the Gators to a 31-17 win, throwing for 134 yards and a touchdown, and rushing for 84 yards and a score.

Back at Company 14 Peter's crew of firemen had the game on TV. The texts started pouring into his phone when Tyler came in. Peter turned off his phone so he could concentrate and watch the son who used to tag along to his dad's flag football games on weekends.

He finally exhaled when the game was over.

When Peter showed back up to work earlier this week, he was no longer Lt. Murphy.

"Now I'm Tyler Murphy's dad,'' he said.

As Gators coach Will Muschamp said after the game, one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity.

That old saying came true for Tyler the moment Tennessee's Marlon Walls fell on Driskel's lower right leg, breaking his fibula. Driskel underwent successful surgery on Wednesday but will miss the rest of the season.

Tyler has taken the drastic turn of events in stride, concerned about his friend's injury but determined to seize his opportunity.

"There have been times when I felt like giving up,'' Tyler said. "Sitting on the bench isn't fun. I was blessed with an opportunity this week."

*****

Since his moment in the sun against Tennessee, Murphy has turned into a mini-celebrity around Wethersfield.

The Hartford Courant published a story on Murphy on the front of the sports section. Peter has taken several calls from reporters and answered countless questions from friends and colleagues. They have talked about Tyler on the local news.

Travis Meyer is a former assistant coach at Wethersfield High and now runs a service that offers private lessons for young quarterbacks. He started to work with Tyler when Murphy was a junior.

Meyer is largely responsible for Murphy signing at Florida. Murphy committed to Temple after his senior season. Then-Owls coach Al Golden was the only one who offered Murphy a chance to play quarterback.

Syracuse recruited him as an athlete. Connecticut wanted him to play defensive back. There were several offers from Division I-AA programs.

Meyer started to send clips of Murphy to bigger schools and got a response from the Gators.

"His ability to pass, his ability to run, I don't think that was ever questioned, at least not by me or any of his coaches up here,'' Meyer said.

Former Gators offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, now head coach at Boston College, was impressed when he first saw video of Murphy in early 2010.

He wanted to know more, so Addazio, a Connecticut native who has strong recruiting connections in the area, traveled to Wethersfield to meet Tyler and Peter.

"At the time we were really looking for that dual-threat guy that pumps up places, isn't that highly recruited,'' Addazio said. "He's a great-looking kid in terms of, he had size; he had great athleticism.

"You could tell he was a real special kid in the school. Everyone spoke of his character."

Soon, Addazio understood why. The Gators offered Murphy a scholarship.

Already committed to Temple, Tyler and Peter sat down for a heart to heart.

One part of Tyler told him to keep his commitment to Temple, the only program that offered him a chance to play quarterback; the other side told him that it's Florida. If the Gators want you, you go.

"He was such a high-character guy that it was hard for him not to go to Temple,'' Addazio said. "To his credit, he was not one of those guys that make reservations. He was really going. We just kind of worked through it.

"This is a great opportunity for you,'' Addazio told him. "No one can really look you in the eye and fault you for wanting to go to Florida. You are not making a lateral move here."

Peter called former Temple receivers coach Kelvin Gilbride, who was Tyler's primary recruiter. He was relieved when Gilbride said he understood why Tyler had to check out Florida. Gilbride told Peter there were only "two or three schools" that Temple would uphold its offer while Murphy checked his options.

Florida was one. Murphy was soon a Gator.

"I'm not afraid of competition,'' Murphy said this week. "And you can't beat a University of Florida degree."

*****

Murphy grew up in an athletic family.

Peter was a walk-on basketball player at Providence who switched to football and played receiver his junior and senior seasons. His sister Morgan is a sophomore forward at Binghamton (N.Y.) University.

Murphy started to play football around the time he turned 7 and as an 11-year-old led the Hartford Wildcats youth team to a national championship appearance at Sun Devil Stadium in Arizona.

And he always played quarterback.

The opportunity at Florida presented a huge challenge. For Murphy to get on the field, some suggested he should change positions. As time passed, others asked if he would be better off transferring.

To the surprise of many, Murphy stayed.

"Tyler is very optimistic about everything,'' said teammate and roommate Jaylen Watkins. "I never witnessed him getting down about playing time. He's always prepared like his chance was going to come. So when he went into the game, nobody was scared, and nobody was shocked at what he was doing."

Meyer kept close tabs on his pupil and was always impressed by how Murphy remained optimistic despite being buried on the depth chart.

While sympathetic toward Driskel, Meyer rushed to his TV on Saturday when his brother-in-law called to say Murphy was coming into the game.

"It was hard to even know what to think: here we go, this is it,'' Meyer said. "For me it was a lot of relief, because I helped him get down there. I was the one who sent the tape, talked to the coaches, and then he doesn't play.

"I felt so bad for the kid. I never pushed him to transfer. I did bring it up a few times. I felt it was part of my responsibility, at least raise the question to him. And he never really entertained it. I think that defines Tyler. Once he committed to it -- that was it. I don't think he'll ever say it, but he's still there partly to show this is where he is going to play."

Boston College was off last weekend. Addazio still watches the Gators on TV if he can and happened to have the game on Saturday.

His eyes locked in first on Driskel, and then on Murphy.

"I felt so bad for Driskel because I was there for the recruiting of him as well. My heart kind of broke for him,'' Addazio said. "And then I saw Murph come in. I just felt great that here is a guy who showed great loyalty and had an opportunity to go in there and do something great for his team.

"He was really a high-character guy who had ability. I really felt that if you gave him a chance, he would develop. He's got a lot of pressure on him right now. He's a guy who obviously hasn't played much. Everyone has got to be fair to this guy. He's got ability, he's got character, but there is a learning curve. I hope everyone understands that and gives him a chance to develop to be the quarterback he can be."

*****

Murphy will take the field here Saturday night with 14 attempts and eight completions on his career ledger.

He passed his first test, but the exams get more difficult as the SEC season gets thicker and thicker.

Peter will continue to text Tyler his three P's the way he does before every game: pray, prepare and protect. As in protect the football.

"I guess he was paying attention," Peter said of Murphy's performance against the Vols. "He was ready."

Muschamp and Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease are on board with Peter's three P's.

They know for any young quarterback's confidence, limiting mistakes is critical to building confidence.

"He's always prepared like he was going to be the starter,'' Pease said. "He's a mature kid. He'll be fine. That's just his demeanor. That's his personality. It's business as usual."

The Gators don't plan to make any wholesale changes on offense. They want Murphy to use his athleticism, make smart decisions in the passing game, and play with the poise he showed in his debut.

The formula is much the same as with Driskel.

"We have a lot of confidence in him,'' Muschamp said. "He's really taken a step forward. He's a guy that never complained. He always handled things perfectly."

Those back home in Wethersfield probably aren't surprised to hear that. That is the Tyler they knew when he was growing up.

Murphy said he has heard from a lot of those folks over the past few days. Like Peter, they will be watching when Tyler makes his first career start Saturday night.

Murphy hopes to deliver another memorable performance for them to talk about at Company 14.

"My town has been very supportive of me,'' he said. "That means the world to me. I'll have butterflies, I'm sure. Once I get hit, I think I'll be fine. I'm not trying to go out there and be a hero. We have a really good defense, one of the best in the country."

Sounds like a son who listens to dad's three P's.

 

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