Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to having a good spring, few compare to the one Utah tight end Jake Murphy is enjoying. The sophomore is doing well on and off the football field.
"I think this spring has been awesome," said Murphy, who kicked things off by having a very public wedding proposal accepted. He followed it up by making a big impression in spring ball.
With senior tight ends David Rolf, Kendrick Moeai and Dallin Rogers recovering from injuries this spring, Murphy has risen to the top of the depth chart.
"He's made the most of his opportunities, without a doubt," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said while acknowledging that Murphy will be in the mix when the other tight ends get healthy again. "No question about it. He did some good things sporadically last year, but he's playing much more consistently this spring than he was last fall."
As a freshman, Murphy appeared in 10 games — making five catches for 64 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown reception in Utah's 54-10 win at BYU.
Tight end has evolved into a deep position for the Utes. Besides Murphy and the seniors, junior Westlee Tonga is also making a strong case for playing time. He was supposed to move to the defensive line this year, but remained at tight end this spring when the seniors were sidelined.
The abundance of talent at tight end, though, isn't something Whittingham is fretting about. He insists there's room for all five of them.
"You want to utilize your strengths," Whittingham said. "And if that's a strong suit for us, we'll be in a lot of two-tight-end sets. So we'll see."
Murphy, meanwhile, is working hard to take advantage of the extra reps he's getting this spring. The former American Fork High star and returned LDS Church missionary (Australia) is getting comfortable and things are progressing.
"It's good. There's always room to improve, obviously," Murphy said while noting all the tight ends have a similar goal — to be the best. "We want to keep working. As far as the schemes go and the plays go, compared to last spring, I'd say it's miles ahead."
Utah's depth at tight end also includes size. The five top contenders, by average, are 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds. Murphy noted that it'll come in handy, especially in Pac-12 play, when they've got to block some real big guys.
The group, he added, will continually push each other in practices this fall.
"Every one of us wants to start," Murphy said. "Everyone wants to go for that."
Speaking of starts, Murphy is excited about a new beginning in his life. He's getting married to Arianne Ingersoll on May 10.
Murphy switched sports for the proposal. He enlisted the help of his father, Dale, to help pop the question. The former Atlanta Braves' star helped set the scene before a Major League spring training game in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in March.
"I knew I was going to propose down there," Jake said. "I just didn't really know how."
Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz had an idea, though. He suggested that it be done around a ceremonial first pitch before an exhibition game between the Braves and the Washington Nationals at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World.
It went off without a hitch.
After making the throw to his father, Jake headed to home plate and delivered his proposal to Arianne — doing so over the stadium's public address system.
Before leaving the field with her engagement ring, she was given a No. 3 Braves jersey with "Murphy" on the back. The couple then posed for a photo with Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
"It was really a nice moment," Dale told MLB.com. "We really enjoyed it."
The proposal can be seen online at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=t86DEAx5uAo
EXTRA POINTS: Tuesday was Utah's last contact practice of spring, aside from the Red-White Game on Saturday. Whittingham said things went well with heated competition and guys getting after each other. ... As per NCAA rules, Thursday's session at Rice-Eccles Stadium will be without gear. ... Weber State coach John L. Smith and members of his staff were among the observers at practice. ... Freshmen quarterbacks Travis Wilson and Chase Hansen will be live in Saturday's scrimmage. Veterans Jordan Wynn and Jon Hays, however, will be off limits to tacklers.
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