Four or five Canadian universities had their eyes on him.
He talked to a few more schools in the United States.
Oh, the interest in Vernon Panthers running back Joe Murphy was there, all right. But it’s hard not to imagine that if he’d had just a tad more experience, the phone calls and emails seeking his football services may have been endless.
It could have been a Murphy lottery.
In only two years of playing organized football, the 6-foot, 205-pound Murphy was a conference and provincial offensive MVP, culminating with his commitment to the University of Alberta Golden Bears in Canada’s U SPORTS’ Canada West Conference.
“The coaching staff at Alberta was great and I enjoyed my visit there, that helped lead to my decision,” said Murphy who, prior to moving to Vernon, where his mom, Jessica, got a job, was living with his family in Revelstoke. And it was the British game of football that had Murphy’s attention.
“I wanted to play soccer. I didn’t know anything about football,” said Murphy, 17, who graduates with the Vernon Secondary Class of 2023. “Soccer was the only sport I played. I played it with my buddies.”
When he got to Vernon, he joined the Panthers, which has been busy establishing itself as one of the elite high school football programs in the province, winning B.C. titles at the junior and senior varsity levels.
Right from his first practice with the Cats, Murphy has been all-in, says Panthers head coach Sean Smith, dedicating himself to improving his skills, speed and strength – everything he could to make up for his limited time in the sport.
“Joe is a complete player and Alberta is getting a back that can run, not only run through but also run past defenders,” said Smith. “His strength is off the charts, so he won’t have a problem blocking defensive linemen and he’s converted from being a receiver in his Grade 12 year, so his receiving skills and route running are at the elite level for running backs.”
Former CFL all-star centre and Grey Cup champion Angus Reid is an assistant coach with the Panthers, who does a lot of training work with Murphy. When Big Joe was moved to running back late in Grade 11, Reid knew the Panthers had a special player.
“He has the opportunity to really dominate at this (university) level,” said Reid, a graduate of Simon Fraser University. “I’ve rarely seen someone committed to doing the daily work that needs to be done like Joe does. Joe is determined to find out how good he can be. There’s no ego with Joe. He wants to get better and he does get better every single day.”
In his final year of high school, Murphy rushed for 774 yards in six games played (129 yards per game) and a staggering 12.09 yards per carry. He was an obvious choice for Interior Conference and Provincial AA Offensive Most Valuable Player. He helped the Panthers reach the B.C. AA semifinal before losing to Nanaimo’s John Barsby Bulldogs.
Murphy also played for Team B.C., with VSS teammate Braden Khunkhun at the U18 Football Canada Cup at the Kelowna Apple Bowl in July 2022.
He plans to study psychology at the U. of A. And he knows he wouldn’t be where he is today without the love and support of his mom and dad, Jessica and Allan.
“It’s crazy the amount of time they’ve put in with me and for me,” said Murphy. “They support whatever it is that I want to do. They drive me to my camps. They’ve been amazing.”
Panthers alumni dot the Canada West football landscape with players at the University of B.C., U. of Calgary and now Alberta Golden Bears.
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