The look in Jayme Murphy’s eyes are that of a starved dog watching someone eat a steak. There’s little searching for what’s on either’s mind.
Murphy was only answering questions from the media on Tuesday, but you could sense the intensity. It’s what makes him a special-teams dynamo on Saturdays.
That’s what it takes to run down the field full speed searching out a kick returner coming in the opposite direction, often with a pretty good head of steam. And when you zero in on the target, you disregard your body and prepare for a hellacious collision.
That’s not for everyone. In fact, it’s not for most people. It is for Jayme Murphy.
A guy like Murphy, who makes his mark on special teams, doesn’t appear in front of the cameras and tape recorders very often. He’s a behind-the-scenes guy. The lunch pail, the hard hat, you get the idea.
Watching Murphy play to the media on Tuesday, you would have thought he does this on a regular basis. Some guys struggle with the questions, over-think their answers, make the responses short. Not this kid. He takes them on and fires back his response with precision, kind of like crashing through a lane on kick coverage.
What Murphy does takes talent and film study and others things that create good players, but it takes at least as much courage. He is listed as a backup running back, but he’s a lot closer to being Rudy than he is impersonating Shonn Greene.
“Tackle the guy with the ball,” Murphy said about his thoughts running down the field on kick coverage. “It’s that simple. It’s a real easy concept. You see the guy catch the ball. You just have to be the guy to put a hit on him. I really don’t have that much lane responsibility. My job is to find the guy with the ball.”
And that’s OK with Murphy. He understands his limitations. He also understands what he can do to help Iowa football. And he does it, even if it causes him concussions on occasion.
“I go out there knowing that I might only get 15 plays,” Murphy said. “I better put a hit on a guy for those 15 plays or else I kind of wasted my time out there.”
You often hear players say that they came to a school because it was a good fit or they liked the coaches or the town or fill in the cliché. When Murphy says it, his believability factor is well above the norm. It’s not that other guys are lying or being dishonest, it’s just that this kid wouldn’t do what he does at a place that didn’t matter a great deal to him.
Murphy could have taken a partial scholarship from Northern Iowa or walked on at Wisconsin. For him, there really wasn’t a choice.
“When it came down to it, I was just an Iowa fan, a die-hard Iowa fan,” Murphy said. “You can’t pass up 70,000 in Kinnick on a Saturday.”
Murphy grew up in Dubuque and attended Senior High School there. He earned second-team all-State honors as a senior and third-team as a junior. His teams never finished above .500. He came to Iowa with a lot to prove.
After a redshirt year in 2006, Murphy crashed onto (or into) the scene and made a name for himself with some serious hits on kick coverage. He was named the team’s overall Special Teams MVP last fall.
Outside of a few injuries, the only thing to keep Murphy from doing his job on the field was personal tragedy. His sister, Cassy, 24, passed away in late August and Jayme missed the season-opener against Maine. An Iowa City Police Officer knocked on his door in town and informed him of his sibling’s passing from a heart disease called Cardiomyopathy.
“It was really tough,” Jayme said. “I wanted to go home and be there for my family. I had the option of playing that week. I just didn’t think I could do it. It’s a hard thing. No parent should ever watch one of their children pass away.”
Murphy has since been tested for the disease and has been cleared to play.
During the bye week, Murphy returned home for the first time since his sister died. Football had been an escape from his sorrow. Now he sat with his parents, Laura and Bill.
“A lot of my family has been trying to get my parents out of the house,” Jayme said. “I spent a lot of time with them. Usually when I go home, I go out and mess around with my friends.”
Jayme has helped his parents use his football playing as an escape, also. Laura and Bill have attended all of the Iowa games.
They take great pride in their son for what he’s been able to accomplish. Bill runs a bar in Dubuque and there’s often discussion about “The Irish Car Bomb” – Jayme’s nickname. Former Iowa Assistant Strength Coach James Dobson came up with the tag.
“I think it’s great,” Jayme said. “It’s fun. My family plays off of it. My dad owns the bar. Just don’t make me look like an alcoholic or anything.”
That might explain the reckless abandon with which he plays the game, but his fearlessness comes from somewhere else, somewhere deep inside. Most people can’t go that deep.
Editor's Note: You can listen to HN.com's 10-minute interview with Murphy here