Long shots: Former NFL receiver helps local athletes make opportunities for themselves

Published: Sunday, April 27 2014 6:30 p.m. MDT

The 311-pound lineman jumps onto the tallest box, landing as he has every time, confidently and softly. Even Madsen shakes his head in disbelief while congratulating him.

Training alongside Farr, Williams and Pataiali'i are Utah tight end Jake Murphy, USC offensive lineman and Cottonwood alum John Martinez, Utah center and Jordan graduate Vyncent Jones, and Utah wide receiver Sean Fitzgerald.

Some of the players were sent to Madsen by their agents, others referred by friends. One thing Madsen can teach them that other trainers may not know is how to maximize even the smallest opportunities.

“I can put into perspective what each day means, calm them down, lay out a road map of where they’re going, what to expect,” he said. “I think every guy’s situation is a little bit different, but there are common issues.”

Murphy, for example, is the only one in the group who left college early, and he’s projected to be drafted anywhere from round five to seven. He said he was being encouraged to consider the draft even before he started his junior year last fall.

Murphy’s season looked like the perfect year to catapult him into the NFL until he broke his wrist. Still, even with only eight games, his numbers were comparable to the other tight ends in this year’s draft.

“That’s something that’s really helped me.”

Murphy said one factor for him was his age. Because he took two years off to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he’s 24. The American Fork alum is the son of six-time National League All-Star Dale Murphy and the younger brother of Shawn Murphy, a Utah State alum who spent five years in the NFL after being drafted in the fourth round by Denver.

“My goal is to play football as long as possible,” said Murphy, who is married with a 1-year-old daughter. “That might be two weeks; it might be six years. This gives me the best situation possible.”

He said people often believe that because he decided to leave early, he must have some guarantee he’s not talking about.

“People sometimes assume that you’ve been promised something,” he said. “Like a second-round draft pick or something. That wasn’t really my mindset. I know there is a good chance I can get drafted. I also know that anything can happen.”

That’s what all the athletes are banking on.

Despite their different paths to this year’s draft, the young men share another common trait. Instead of allowing adversity to deter them from their dreams, they’ve used it to propel them.

Martinez was one of the hottest high school recruits in the state when he chose to play at USC five years ago. But coaching changes and crippling penalties to the program by the NCAA made for a rough road. He started most of two years until coaches benched him partway through his senior season.

He learned to rely on himself and his teammates. He learned to be resilient and determined. Even during his toughest times, he said he never gave up his ultimate goal — to make an NFL roster.

Martinez said he has a lot to prove, especially to people who still believe he won’t make it because he chose the Trojans over a Utah school.

“There are still some people out there who said I shouldn’t have gone to USC,” he said. “That I wouldn’t have had that kind of season if I’d stayed here. ... I don’t regret it at all. I loved my time there.”

Williams understands having something to prove. Unlike Martinez, he didn’t get a shot at a major college program out of high school. 
Instead, he was offered a scholarship at SUU. He took it, but after a year decided he wanted to take his chances as a walk-on at Utah.

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