Murphy, Stanford will kick you in your shins

June, 6, 2013
6/06/13
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Stanford outside linebacker Trent Murphy has considered the college football hype machine. He mostly has thought it frivolous and worthless. But not without just a trace of longing.

Such is the plight of an underrated player who has performed better than his Q-rating suggests.

"There was a little period of time when I thought that it could affect your draft stock, that it might mean a lot -- media hype and television hype," he said. "But I've gone back to my foundation, which is it really doesn't matter. If I'm doing my job between the whistles, if I'm beating guys, that's what matters. If I'm recognized for that or not, I don't think it means a whole lot as long as my team's winning games and the coaches who really know what's going on see the film. That's your resume. It speaks louder than preseason watch lists."

[+] EnlargeTrent Murphy
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Trent Murphy bears the responsibility of leading the Cardinal into the 2013 season as national-title contenders.
Ah, but Murphy might be ready for his closeup. Long considered Stanford's "other" outside linebacker opposite Chase Thomas, Murphy is finally getting his due, including being named a second-team preseason All-American by Phil Steele.

More important: Murphy, an athletic 6-foot-6, 261 pounder, is solidly on the NFL radar. The question in 2013 is whether he plays himself into the first round of the 2014 draft. As a junior, first-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2012, he had 56 total tackles and led Stanford in both tackles for a loss (18) and sacks (10). He also had an interception, forced fumble and five pass defenses.

But first things first: the 2013 season.

Stanford is a Pac-12 favorite and national title contender -- along with Oregon -- in large part because of a defense led by Murphy which might be the nation's best. The Cardinal is deep and talented at all three levels, and that defense will now be supported by an offense led by an experienced quarterback in Kevin Hogan.

The pieces are in place, and the hype machine has noticed. More than a few pundits believe the Cardinal might be capable of ending the SEC's seven-year reign atop college football.

But that could be a trap. Preseason plaudits often act as a lullaby. Just ask USC.

"That's the biggest concern around here: Entitlement and complacency," Murphy said. "Those are things that all good teams fight. It's kind of the difference between being a good team and being a great team."

That's why, for example, strength coach Shannon Turley might decide that a stray Gatorade bottle during an off-season workout offends the very core of his being and transforms him into a tornado of outrage over entitlement and complacency among his novitiates.

That's the rub with Stanford. Its rise to prominence on the college football landscape has been a battle against type. Stanford students are the proverbial cream of the crop, future tech innovators and venture capitalists camping out on an idyllic campus just down the road from Silicon Valley. While there's a quasi-ironic embrace of #nerdnation on Twitter among the school's student athletes, there's also a constant battle against 94305 disease. And every Stanford person knows exactly what that is.

Yet be forewarned. Stanford football players have an odd way of dealing with praise.

"We just kick them in the shin and keep moving forward," Murphy said. "Any time anyone compliments you, kick them in the shin and keep moving."

(Note to myself).

Stanford and Murphy both have plenty of motivation heading into 2013. For the Cardinal, it was losing a pair of tight road games it shouldn't have against Washington and Notre Dame. If Stanford wants to play for a national title, it can't do that.

Meanwhile, Murphy sees his own missed opportunities. It's notable that he also led Stanford with six quarterback hurries, which he rates as "blown sacks."

"To be honest, I probably missed more sacks than I made," he said. "That's about finishing."

If you play defense for Stanford, missing a sack means you missed the party. The unit's unofficial motto -- we've been unable to figure out if it was invented by Thomas or linebacker Shayne Skov -- is "Party in the Backfield."

Is there a new motto for 2013?

Said Murphy, "'Party in the backfield' will be hard to get rid of. People love that."

Murphy said a video might be forthcoming.

But this isn't just flippant or self-indulgent. There's hype and there are meaningful words. Stanford's more academically minded players value the latter. It's part of the team culture.

"Right now the seniors are working on a team covenant," Murphy said. "Which is kind of the senior class wanting to put their personality into team goals, a team mission. What our mentality is going to be. Our motto will likely come out of that meeting. I'll keep you posted."

We'll be checking the scoreboard.

Ted Miller | email

College Football

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