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Murph catches on at KU

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

NEW MADRID -- Brian Murph, much like Dorothy, hopes the journey from Kansas leads down the yellow-brick road to his Oz, pro football.

But, first, Murph has some unfinished business at the University of Kansas, where the former New Madrid County Central standout is the leading receiver for the Big 12 Conference Jayhawks.

"I see myself having a chance at the next level," he said. "It's all about opportunity and making the best of what comes your way. I just let things handle themselves; just keep playing and you'll get noticed."

Murph, a native of Howardville who quarterbacked NMCC's 2001 Class 3 state runnerup team, is in his senior season at KU following two seasons at Butler County Community College in El Dorado, Kansas.

Through eight games, he leads the Jayhawks in catches with 32, total yards with 375 and average yards per game with 46.9. He's returned eight punts for a 19.5 yard average.

He's scored twice on receptions and once on a 70-yard punt return.

"It's going all right," said Murph, son of Marilyn and Willie Jimerson. "It always could be better. I just strive to do the best I can. That's something my Mom and Dad always taught me. If you're going to do something, do it 100 percent.

"And there's always somebody there trying to take your spot, so you've got to be on top of things."

Murph saw action in 11 games with seven starts as a junior at KU, ranking third in number of catches.

"Last year, I tried to ease into my role because I didn't know that much about the offense," said Murph, "but now I feel much more comfortable with the offense and it's going pretty good."

At Butler County C. C., he was ranked among the top junior college players in the nation by Superprep Magazine and led the Grizzlies to the national championship game in both of his seasons there.

This season the Jayhawks, coached by Mark Mangino, have struggled to a 3-5 overall record, 0-4 in the Big 12, but Murph feels it could be a lot better.

They have lost the five games by a total of 27 points, many of the losses coming in the closing minutes or overtime.

"In every loss this year, we've either been up or lost the game late," said Murph, who wears No. 6 for the Jayhawks. "We've got to pick it up to get bowl eligible (six wins). We're one of the top teams, in my opinion, but we're just not showing it with our record."

Last Saturday, it was more of the same for the Jayhawks, a one-point loss to Baylor, 36-35, after leading 35-17 at the half.

Earlier, there was a six-point loss to Toledo in double overtime, a seven-

point loss to ranked Nebraska in overtime, a 21-18 loss to Texas A & M as the Aggies mounted a late comeback, then a 10-point loss (42-32) to Oklahoma State after leading 14-0 at the half.

"Big 12 football, especially conference play, is a whole other level," said Murph. "The first time I stepped on that field at KU, I had all kinds of butterflies but now I'm just concentrating on going out there and trying to help my team win."

Murph is looking forward to a Nov. 25 matchup against the University of Missouri, the so-called Border Rivalry.

"I haven't played at Mizzou yet, but, being from Missouri, I'm going to like going back home and playing there," he said. "But until then, the toughest place I've had to play has been Nebraska, because of the atmosphere. There's 80,000-plus people and you really can't hear anything down on the field."

Oddly, Murph had his "breakout game" in the raucous, intimidating environment of the Cornhuskers' Memorial Stadium.

"That was kind of like my coming-out party, my first 100-yard receiving game at KU," said Murph, whose '05 Jayhawks defeated Nebraska for the first time since 1968.

"It was crazy. They tried to make it a big deal that we hadn't beat them in a long time, then we beat them last year. Their fans go crazy for football."

He also adds in-state rival Kansas State University to the list of difficult venues in which to play.

Murph believes his highlight game is yet to come.

"I don't think I've had it yet," he said. "I'm still learning so I think I've got quite a ways to go before I feel like I've reached a high point."

Murph keeps an interested eye on his alma mater and remembers the '01 championship game at the Trans World Dome in St. Louis.

"We were the first in our school to get there, but I think those young ones coming up now definitely have a chance," said Murph, whose Eagles compiled a stellar 21-3 record during his junior and senior seasons.

One of his most vivid memories of the championship game is of teammate Derek Tipler's 67-yard touchdown reception.

In a modest manner, which came across clearly in a telephone interview, Murph made no mention that he delivered the pass to Tipler.

"I remember Derek catching a little out pattern and taking it to the house," he said. "I wish we could have won it, but it was fun."

NMCC lost 21-14 to three-time defending state champion Platte County.

Murph said his grooming at NMCC has served him well in the collegiate ranks.

"They prepared me pretty well," he said. "Coach (Arlen) Pixley and all the other coaches tried to tell us how it was going to be and we ran plays similar to college offenses. The speed of the college game was the toughest to get used to, and it's a lot more physical. Those were probably the biggest things I had to overcome."

Murph gives much of the credit to his playing college ball to current NMCC head coach Arlen Pixley, an assistant during his playing days.

"I'm happy that Coach Pixley finally got his chance as a head coach and I think he's doing a great job," said Murph. "He's got them on a weight program, something we didn't have until my junior and senior years, and he's trying to get the kids noticed.

"Me and my teammates in our graduating class of '02--we were lucky to have him. Basically, he's the reason that I'm playing football in college. He's done a lot of good with that program. I'm glad to see that he's winning now. He deserves that."

Pixley said, as a coach, to have a player move on and succeed is as gratifying as seeing one of your own kids make it.

"They're the ones that bought into the system," he said, of a handful of NMCC grads who have found sports success at the next level. "We showed them the way but they had to take the steps.

"They were outstanding in our hallways, in our classrooms and on our athletic fields. They're just genuine people and we're proud of them and find them to be just as humble when they come home as they were the day they left."

Murph is on schedule to graduate in May or July of 2007 with a degree in sociology.

"I originally wanted to major in Criminal Justice, so I might want to do something in that field and I also want to get into real estate," he said, of his future plans. "I've got a lot of options, so I'm just going to keep them open if football doesn't work out."