Failing to hold back tears on the sideline, Marcus Murphy knew he had played his last game for the Golden Eagles.
It wasn’t senior night, it wasn’t a playoff loss and it wasn’t even a state championship — Murphy left the team midseason.
His junior year, Murphy was part of Fleming Island High School’s 4A state championship team. He faced a tough choice — stay and chase a second championship or jump start his college career by graduating a semester early.
He chose the latter.
After the game, Fleming Island coach Michael Green tried to console an emotional Murphy.
“It hurt him a little bit to leave his team and his teammates,” Green said. “I gave him a big hug and wished him the best of luck. I told him he’s got to do what is best for him.”
It would seem like Murphy made the right choice — he’s the starting center back for USF and has played almost every minute for the Bulls this season.
“We talked about [him graduating early],” Green said. “I warned him to be careful when [he goes] down there. I told him ‘you’re going to have to work hard, you’re going to have to earn it.’”
Green’s advice must have stuck with Murphy. The true freshman stood out even in spring practices.
“He came into preseason training and I saw him and sent him a message,” sophomore midfielder Emilio Ycaza said. “It said ‘hey, you have a chance for the starting role at center back. You really need to step it up and take this opportunity,’ since then, [Murphy] has been superb.”
Even though he’s one of the younger players on the team, the center back position demands a vocal leader on the field. In the game, Murphy has had to shout orders to his older teammates. The fact that he’s been around the team since spring has helped him gain some respect.
“All these new freshmen came in [this fall],” Ycaza said. “[Murphy] had a semester with us…so I don’t really see him as a freshman. In college, there’s a lot of hierarchy, but we try to break that down … he’s gotten to this program for a reason so we let [the freshmen] speak up. [Murphy] has really taken that upon himself.”
One veteran leader on the team, junior keeper Harrison Devenish-Meares, works closely with Murphy because of his position. According to Devenish-Meares, the freshman’s impact on the team was almost immediate.
“[Murphy] is mature beyond his years,” Devenish-Meares said earlier this season. “He’s supposed to be a high school kid, but he’s already in college. Week one he was ordering some of the older boys around and I’m one of the older boys. I’ve always got time for anyone who wants to step up and be a leader.”
For Murphy, being a vocal part of the defense isn’t about asserting dominance or showing anyone how loud he can be, it’s just soccer.
“I think center back is a very talkative position, you have to be very vocal on the field especially since you have a view of everyone,” Murphy said. “You’re their eyes behind the field. Whether it’s yelling at them to step or yelling at them to drop, any kind of vocal leadership comes from the defenders or even the goalkeeper.”
Even though his life practically revolves around soccer, Murphy is majoring in industrial engineering — a field with more demanding coursework than some other student-athletes.
“The school part was huge for me too, being a major in engineering, this school offers a great engineering program,” he said. “I fell in love with the campus, I fell in love with the style of play, the coaches are very supportive, they’re very constructive. I don’t think I’ve ever been developed as a player so quickly in my life except for these six months that I’ve been here.”
In high school, Murphy played alongside Reed Davis, who was named Gatorade Florida Boys Soccer Player of the Year this summer.
“Reed scored all the goals and received all the accolades, but people didn’t realize how much work [Murphy] did,” Green said. “[Murphy] was the guy who would win the ball in the middle of the field, then he’d beat one or two guys, then he’d play that through ball to [Davis].”
Murphy was voted “most attractive” by his senior classmates at Fleming High School last year. His teammates used to jokingly call him “pretty boy,” now his teammates warmly call him “Murph.”
Murphy still looks back to his tough choice he made senior year.
“I think the decision played out well,” Murphy said. “Coming to USF early definitely played its part in how I’m doing here right now…I try not to take it for granted.”