Before the ball left the quarterback’s hands and spiraled through the air, Mississippi State University’s Marcus Murphy knew exactly where the ball was going.
As the slot receiver for the University of Arkansas ran his route, Murphy said he and the cornerback were communicating about the play. He waited for the quarterback to throw the ball, and when the receiver turned to come back to the ball, Murphy broke for it.
Leaping in front of the receiver and making the catch, a thud could be heard on the TV broadcast as the ball hit Murphy’s hands.
Murphy ran down the right sideline to the 20-yard line, then the 10-yard line before cutting back to his left towards the end zone, avoiding the Arkansas quarterback. Remarkably, not a single Razorback player touched him as he had a clear path to the end zone for a 32-yard interception return.
“When I crossed, I looked up to the sky,” Murphy said. “I know my momma watching up there. She guided me through that whole play. I made a great break on the ball.”
A native of West Point, Murphy is a sophomore safety, who made his first career start against Arkansas. He not only returned an interception for a touchdown but also made eight tackles in the game.
It has been close to a month since Murphy’s mom died. In his first career start, Murphy was able to make his first career interception return in a season he dedicated to his mom.
The game of football gives Murphy an escape from life. Football keeps him focused, and Murphy said it makes him more passionate.
“It makes me attack life differently,” Murphy said. “I know I don’t have a choice. Everything I dedicate to my mom and my little boy.”
Not only is Murphy playing for his mom this football season, but he is also playing for his son. Born missing chromosome 7, Mason Murphy, Murphy’s son, needs a bone marrow transplant to correct an issue with his red blood cells.
Before the Arkansas game, head coach Joe Moorhead asked the players to write a letter explaining why they play football. Murphy had his selected, and it was read to the team. Moorhead said that Murphy is someone the team is going to fight for.
“What he has gone through as a 17-18-year-old kid, it breaks most grown men,” Moorhead said. “For him to not just be able to be here at Mississippi State, but flourish. He is doing great academically and taking care of his son. He has a very bright future at Mississippi State.”
The emotions flowed through Murphy as he wrote his letter for why he plays the game because of how much his mom supported him in his career.
“I was getting teary-eyed,” Murphy said. “My momma never missed a game. Whether it was here or overseas, she knew she was gonna make here way there.”
Starting quarterback Tommy Stevens, a graduate transfer from Indianapolis, Indiana, said he was really happy for Murphy. Stevens also said while a lot of players knew Murphy’s story, to hear everything was very moving as most people do not have to go through what Murphy has gone through.
“The fact he is still here and the fact he is pushing through is incredible,” Stevens said. “For him to have a pick-six, it was really cool.”
When Murphy stepped out of the interview room to get on the team bus, he carried with him a weight of dedicating a season to his mom and son. However, he carried the memory of scoring that pick-six with him, too. As a father and as a son, Murphy said he knows he is playing for his family.
“I know that I’m making him proud,” Murphy said. “I know I’m making her proud upstairs.”