Gators turn to Murphy at quarterback
Florida never really recruited Tyler Murphy.
The junior quarterback from Wethersfield, Conn., had scholarship offers from Connecticut, Syracuse and Temple in 2009 when he decided to send his high school highlights about 1,000 miles south to Gainesville. It turned out to be a good move - although it took four years, Jacoby Brissett's transfer and Jeff Driskel's season-ending leg injury for Murphy to land the starting quarterback job.
In between, Murphy had people questioning whether he should change positions and/or schools.
"It was tough," Murphy said. "Sitting on the sidelines is never fun. But sometimes you have to be patient when you come to a big football school like this."
Murphy's wait ended in the first quarter of Saturday's 31-17 victory against Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee.
Driskel broke a bone in his lower right leg against the Volunteers and was scheduled to have surgery Sunday. Murphy took over and performed better than anyone could have predicted. Sure, there were a few hiccups. But Murphy gave the 20th-ranked Gators (2-1, 1-0 SEC) hope that their goals are still within reach.
He completed 8 of 14 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 84 yards and a score as Florida extended its winning streak in the series to nine.
It was a solid debut for a career backup who had thrown just one pass in four years - and it didn't even count in the stats because it came on a 2-point conversion.
"It was always in the back of my mind I might never play, but I just kept working hard and just kept fighting, kept faith in myself and kept praying for an opportunity," Murphy said. "Luckily, I was able to get it. It wasn't the way I wanted it, you know, but an opportunity is an opportunity. You've got to make the best of it."
Murphy will make his first career start Saturday night at Kentucky, which has dropped 26 in a row in the series.
How did Murphy get to this point? Well, it was mostly about fortitude and fortune.
Murphy wasn't highly recruited coming out of Wethersfield High School. He had verbally committed to Temple, but also could see what was going on at Florida. Former coach Urban Meyer led the Gators to the 2008 national championship, the program's second in three years, and quarterback Tim Tebow had become a star running the spread-option offense.
John Brantley was waiting to take over for Tebow, but the pocket passer hardly fit Meyer's scheme.
So Murphy sent some game tape to the Gators. A few weeks later, he got a call from offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who handled recruiting in the northeast, and then another from Meyer. Murphy scheduled a visit and then got a scholarship offer - one he accepted on the spot.
Florida desperately needed a backup, but coaches felt Murphy wasn't ready as a freshman. He redshirted in 2010, watching from the sideline as tight end Jordan Reed and versatile receiver Trey Burton shared quarterback snaps alongside Brantley.
Things got worse for Murphy after Meyer and Addazio left. Driskel and Brissett signed with Florida in 2011, and both immediately jumped Murphy on the depth chart.
Murphy went from fourth team in 2011 to third-string quarterback in 2012. Some friends and family members advised him to transfer, and he even considered joining Addazio at Temple. Others suggested he switch positions.
"I just didn't want to give up," he said. "I felt like if I changed positions, I would have gave up on myself and I probably wouldn't have been able to live with myself."
Murphy stuck it out, and he became the backup this year when Brissett transferred to North Carolina State. He also got significant work with the first-team offense early in fall practice, while Driskel recovered from an appendectomy.
Still, most believed the Gators would be doomed if Driskel got hurt, and it remains to be seen how Murphy will play against better competition. But the poise and presence he showed against the Volunteers were promising signs.
"One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "Everybody wants it now. He's a guy that's worked extremely hard and cashed in on his opportunity, and I look forward to seeing him play the rest of the year."
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