A couple of seasons ago, the University of Rhode Island football program was an afterthought not only in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), but nationally. When Attleboro High grad Kyle Murphy was a freshman, the Rams finished 2-9 and lost several games by lopsided margins. Murphy’s first collegiate start was against perennial power James Madison. The Rams lost 84-7.
But over the past three years, URI has become a program on the rise. The Rams went 6-5 last season and enter 2019 eyeing an elusive playoff spot and expecting to challenge for a CAA title. It has been quite a turnaround.
“Just looking back when my 2020 class came in, we really set the foundation and we’ve all matured, and we’ve all grown so much and it’s nice to see how much hard work can turn a program around,” said Murphy. “It even made us closer, telling each other how far we’ve come and how far we can go not only as players but as people.”
Murphy has also come a long way from his debut three years ago. He has developed into one of the top offensive linemen not only in the CAA but also in the country. He started 10 games at left tackle last season (and one at center to fill in for an injury) earning first team All-CAA honors. With Murphy leading the line, the Rams rushed for more than 120 yards per game, their highest total in six seasons, and scored 15 rushing touchdowns, which was the highest in 11 years.
Ahead of the new season, the 6-foot-4, 302-pound tackle was named to several preseason All-American teams. Pro scouts are now being spotted at the new Meade Stadium turf and at preseason camps and workouts looking at URI players.
“They’ve seen the strides we’ve made and they know we have the talent here,” Murphy said. “It’s exciting to see how far we’ve come and how much attention we’ve drawn.”
Murphy was a standout at Attleboro, earning 2013 HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year honors and being named to this site’s awards as a defensive lineman in 2014 and an offensive lineman in 2015. When he made the decision to go to URI, Murphy decided to focus on the offensive side of the ball.
He explained, “I started to grow such a passion for playing offensive line. It’s a different kind of bond you have with the five guys you’re playing with. I love coming in everyday, playing with the guys, and just competing with each other.”
Of course, the leap from high school to college was a challenge. No longer was Murphy the biggest guy on the field and he had to match the speed of the game and of the players that he was trying to keep out of the backfield. To meet the demands of the collegiate level, Murphy focused on his technique.
He progressed from a raw talent into a regular starter at multiple positions across the line. He started all 11 games as a sophomore, six at left guard and five at right tackle. By his junior season, he was the team’s starting left tackle.
“Everybody’s going to be as strong as you or as fast as you and you really need to rely on your techniques when it’s crunch time in a game or when you’re going up against someone that’s bigger or stronger than you,” he said. “If you have better technique, that beats anything all day.”
These are lessons that were ingrained in Murphy during his time at Attleboro. Working under the Bombardiers line coach Chris Burns, who played four years at Northeastern University, Murphy knew what he was prepared for the challenges he would face at URI.
“He taught me how to be a physical player, how to guide the guys around me, and all the coaches in high school taught me how to have good character and how to have a mentality to never quit,” Murphy reflected.
The hard work continues to pay off. Although the Rams started the season with a pair of losses, at Ohio and in triple overtime to Delaware, there is a new confidence in the program and high expectations for the season. The ultimate goal is to get into the postseason picture, bringing even more recognition and attention to the program.
“We just need to build on finishing game and the little things like mental errors and getting stupid penalties, but we’re looking good,” Murphy said. “It’s only the little things that we need to critique. Our structure and everything is looking solid.”
Being named to the all-conference team, being on the New England Football Writer’s Association All-New England team, and having national publications put him on preseason All-American lists has not diminished Murphy’s desire to improve.
“It was just a wake up call for me that I had the potential to be one of the best in the conference and even one of the best in the nation,” he said. “It gave me a lot of confidence but also gave me more motivation to keep striving for more and more and set my goals even higher.
“I’m a humble guy and I’m hard on myself, but this year I set my goals even higher because I know I can reach them.”
As a team captain and as the senior leader of the offensive line group, Murphy is spreading that message to all his teammates this season. Never a very vocal leader, Murphy is trying to set the example with his effort and desire for improvement because he knows that can be contagious.
While his focus remains on this season and finishing his collegiate career on a high, the possibility of being able to extend his football career beyond college is impossible to ignore. It has been a long journey from the Pop Warner fields in Attleboro.
“I remember just wanting to play football for the fun of it and then realizing that I maybe had the chance to get a scholarship and play in college,” Murphy said. “It does hit me sometimes to see how far I’ve come and see how much more I can do.
“Honestly, it’s shocking sometimes to realize how I never even thought about playing at the next level but these last couple years have changed my mind about everything. It’s exciting to see what the future ahead of me holds.”
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