PHOENIX --Stanford senior
Trent Murphy hears the praise all the time, but he is too much in the here and now to consider the full scope of the impact that he and his class have helped bring to the
Cardinal football program -- four straight 10-win seasons, a school first, and a toughness and resolve that shows first in the trenches.
"People thank us for what we've done, turning the program around, but I haven't been reflective," Murphy said. "When I do, it's been a pretty unique experience."
One of the major building blocks has been Murphy, the one who got away from the in-state programs. Murphy, a 6-foot-6, 261-pounder, leads the FBS with 13 sacks as the Cardinal prepare for the Pac-12 championship game at
Arizona State on Saturday, with the winner bound for the Rose Bowl.
It will be a homecoming for Murphy, who grew up in the northeast Mesa neighborhood of Lehi and is looking forward to his first appearance in Sun Devil Stadium since his freshman year at Brophy. You can expect a crowd. Trent is from a family of seven, and he has more cousins than that. The 30-strong group should be easy to spot. They will be the ones holding up signs with his face imprinted.
"I couldn't be more excited," Murphy said. "I was disappointed we didn't get home-field advantage, but it's kind of a dream come true to play in front of my home crowd."
ASU certainly knows Murphy. Then-coach Dennis Erickson made a strong recruiting pitch in 2008, but Murphy chose to explore worlds farther away than neighboring
Tempe, buying into then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh's assurances that the program was on the rise.
"It was an exciting deal," Murphy said. "He was talking about hard work and doing things the tough way, and I was all about that at Brophy, anyway."
It has been a perfect marriage. After playing only two games in his redshirt sophomore year of 2009, Murphy has been a staple on the Stanford defense as a linebacker/pass rusher. He has made a steady climb, with 6 1/2 sacks in 2011, 10 in 2012 and now 13 with two games left this season. He turned his first career interception into a touchdown against
Washington in 2012, and he had another interception return for a touchdown against
Washington State earlier this year.
Murphy has a size/speed combination that makes him difficult to block of the corner, but just as much of pass rushing is an attitude, he said.
"Really, the biggest key I would say is to have a relentless attitude every play," he said. "You have to believe you are going to get there and reach that guy. If you get blocked, you can't stay blocked. You have to finish. Eventually the quarterback is going to pump the ball and pull it back down for an extra second, and that is enough time for you to get that guy. That's the key: relentlessness."
Murphy has always been that all-in. At Brophy, defensive coach Gary Galante would tell a story about a player who was so dedicated, so determined, that he would go to an opponent's field and do up-downs -- just what they sound like -- until he upchucked on the field.
"I thought that was the coolest thing," said Murphy, who found out with the rest of the team only later that the story was apocryphal.
Now, Galante can tell it for real. Before Brophy was to play Mesa Mountain View, his neighborhood school, in his senior year, Murphy went to the Toros' field the Sunday before the game and started in. He did 50, 100, 150, 200, 250 up-downs until, after chugging from the gallon water jug he brought, he threw up on the field.
"It was like having a revelation on the field," Murphy said.
Brophy won the game even though Mountain View players, aware of what he had done, double-teamed him and went after his knees. Murphy, who won the state discus championship later that year, carried that commitment with him to Stanford, first for Harbaugh and now for coach David Shaw.
"The coaches preach (that the) most physical team will win," Murphy said. "The toughest team will win."
Murphy is hardly the only menacing presence Stanford will bring to the Pac-12 title game. Tailback
Tyler Gaffney, who missed last season to play minor league baseball in the
Pittsburgh organization, leads the Cardinal with 1,485 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns.
After a few games to reacquaint himself, Gaffney has taken off. He has 1,023 yards rushing in his last seven games, and Shaw is not afraid to use him behind an offensive line that ASU coach Todd Graham called the best the
Sun Devils have faced this year. Gaffney had 36 carries for 171 yards against
UCLA on Oct. 19 and since has 45 carries for 157 yards against
Oregon, 24 carries for 158 yards against
USC and 33 carries for 189 yards against
"He runs with so much determination and leg drive and body lean," Shaw said. "He loves when the game gets tight and he loves when the game is really physical. Right now, he’s the embodiment of our running game.
"You’ve seen unbelievable determination. He takes a lot of pride in not having negative plays. If a play looks like it’s about to be minus-2 and its plus-2, that’s a huge play for him. When a play is supposed to be 4 yards and he gets 12 yards, he loves those."
Gaffney had 87 yards and two touchdowns in the Stanford's 42-28 victory over ASU on Sept. 21.
“He just brings it every single play," Graham said. "He gets stronger as the game goes on, and he’s gotten stronger as the season has gone on. The key is winning the line of scrimmage, which is a big challenge. It’s going to be a heck of a war between a great offensive line and a great defensive line and a great tailback.”