Doug Robinson: Utah turns out to be the right fit for Jake Murphy

Published: Saturday, Aug. 20 2011 11:00 p.m. MDT

Jake Murphy, at practice as the University of Utah football team practices at Rice-Eccles Stadium Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In any story about Jake Murphy, the University of Utah's tight end by way of BYU and American Fork High, there is the inevitable mention of the old man, so let's get that out of the way.

Jake Murphy is the son of Dale Murphy, the former Major League Baseball superstar who was as famous for his clean, polite persona as he was for home runs. He and his wife Nancy produced eight children, one short of a baseball team, and Jake is sixth in the batting order.

These days you can find Dale, a man who was once mobbed everywhere he went, hanging out on the sideline during Ute scrimmages, relatively unrecognized and unmolested as he keeps an eye on Jake. All of which is a strange turn of events in itself.

Murphy lives in Utah Valley, not far from BYU, and has dozens of friends and long-time acquaintances at the school. Nancy was a BYU cheerleader (she is finishing her degree at the school now). Dale himself attended BYU for a few weeks in 1978, shortly after joining the LDS Church and two years into what would be an 18-year Major League career. Two of Murphy's sons graduated from BYU. The Murphys have owned BYU football season tickets for years (although they have rarely used them). Given all of the above, no one was surprised when Jake signed a letter of intent with the BYU football team as a high school junior.

Yet here he is, wearing a red and white jersey, No. 82 in your program.

"Apparently, he rethought his position," says Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham.

"It wasn't anything personal," says Jake. "Utah was the best fit for me."

Actually, they're being coy. It's much more complicated than that, but more on the subject later.

Maybe the elder Murphy was a seven-time All-Star and two-time National League MVP who hit 398 career homers, but his progeny are football players. Shawn, 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, was drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL draft by the Miami Dolphins out of Utah State. After stints with Carolina and Tampa Bay, he is trying to make the cut with the Denver Broncos on the offensive line. His younger brother McKay, another lineman, plans to walk on at Utah after returning from a church mission. Then there is Jake.

When he left to serve a two-year church mission to Australia in 2008, he was a wide receiver. He returned as a tight end. He gained 50 pounds on his mission and grew himself right into a new position. At 6-4 and 255 pounds, he is battling for playing time at a hybrid tight-end, H-back position.

"I've been playing a little bit of everything," Jake said following a recent scrimmage in which he caught three passes for 65 yards.

"He still has the athleticism he had when he was smaller," says Whittingham. "He has the good ball skills you would expect of a guy who played wide receiver. Like a lot of tight ends, he needs to work on other parts of his game."

Such as blocking.

Jake is calm, poised and polite, although you would have thought otherwise after a recent practice when a graduate assistant coach stood watch over a one-on-one interview between Murphy and a reporter.

"Just keeping an eye on him," he said, unsmiling behind dark glasses. When Jake gave the reporter his phone number, the assistant snapped, "You don't have to give him that."

Either this guy thinks he's a Secret Service agent or the new Pac-12 membership has put everyone on edge.

With Jake and his brothers committed to the gridiron, there will be no encore act for the Murphys in the Major Leagues. All of his sons tried baseball and some excelled, although, predictably, they were burdened with the name.

"The pressure never came from my dad," says Jake. "It came from the outside world. If I struck out, it was like, how can Dale Murphy's kid strike out?"

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