Murphy filling new roles at UW-Eau Claire
Former RHS football player converts to cornerback
By Kevin Damask
During his high school football career, Rhinelander’s Austin Murphy used his unique blend of size, speed and quickness to become one of the Wisconsin Valley Conference’s best running backs. Heading into his sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Blugolds coaches are hoping Murphy can use those rare attributes to master an entirely different position –– cornerback.
Unfortunately, Murphy, who played on special teams last year, won’t have much time to prepare for the switch to defense.
The Blugolds started their fall practice on Sunday, the same day head coach Todd Glaser asked Murphy if he would be interested in playing in the secondary.
“The first day we came in to get our equipment and right away, (Coach is) like, ‘Murphy, I need to talk to you,’ and I was like, ‘Oh no, what could this possibly be?,’” Murphy said. “He brought me to his office and said, ‘A couple of corners quit, we’re running low on numbers and we thought we could use a guy on offense and you’re one of the fastest, quickest guys. We could use you, would you want to move over?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’”
The Blugolds’ season opener is Sept. 4 against Bethel College (Tenn.) in Eau Claire. While Eau Claire’s season is approaching fast, it’s unlikely Murphy will get a lot of time at cornerback, at least early in the season. He’ll start out on special teams, but he could work his way into the Blugolds’ defensive scheme as an extra defensive back on nickel packages.
Despite all the success Murphy enjoyed as Rhinelander’s star halfback, he has no qualms about taking on a different role in college.
“At Rhinelander, we (played) both ways and I always loved hitting people and I loved being on defense and making plays, so when he told me, I wasn’t even mad or anything,” Murphy said. “I’m ready to hit people and that’s my new role on the team and I’m ready to take it on.”
After working hard in the offseason, the 6-1, 178-pound Murphy is physically ready to play defensive back. He’s going to need time to learn Eau Claire’s defensive playbook, but he’s willing to learn and that pleases Glaser.
“He’s a student of the game. He wants to get better, not only physically but mentally. He wants to know the game and that’s half the battle when you’re talking about players; kids have to really want it and Austin wants it,” Glaser said. “He really doesn’t have any weaknesses, it’s just his youth. But he’s a year older this year, he came into camp in really good shape. He’s been very good for us so far and I expect a bright future for him.”
As a freshman, Murphy admitted coming into fall camp feeling more content than he should have felt. While the Blugolds play at the NCAA Division III level, they’re in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, one of the strongest conferences in D-III. The WIAC is home to UW-Whitewater, last season’s D-III national champion, along with several other solid programs. Last season, Murphy had to adjust to playing against bigger, faster players with more talent. He started out on Eau Claire’s scout team and worked his way onto the depth chart. By mid-season, he hit the field as a special teamer and his first play was a memorable one.
“I was a corner on a punt, so I was guarding a gunner. He came right at me and I just locked him up and took him to the ground and I was so jacked. I’ve never even done that before, not even in high school,” Murphy said. “It really set a good tone for the rest of the year for how I was going to play.”
As a running back at RHS, Murphy would handle the ball about 30 times a game, either on carries or receptions. At Eau Claire, those days are over, but Murphy’s been practicing as a kickoff/punt returner, so he could be handling the ball again during games.
Last fall, the Blugolds finished 6-4 and 4-3 in the WIAC. Coming off a solid season, Glaser has high expectations this fall and will look for Murphy to help the Blugolds in any capacity.
Murphy, meanwhile, has goals he wants to meet off the field, too. He’s committed to graduating in four years and becoming either a teacher or athletic trainer. Being a full-time student and athlete at a D-III university garners little glory, but Murphy’s enjoying it.
“If I ever start feeling down or practice is too tough, or if I’m getting tired and don’t want to go to practice, well I just think about how in five years I would have wished I would have tried my hardest,” Murphy said. “So that will push me a lot, to try my hardest every single day in practice to get better.
“I just want to be the best leader I can be and the best guy I can be because in the end, it doesn’t matter who made that big play, it was just about what type of person you are.”
Full article at Rhinelander Daily News