Attleboro’s Murphy Garners National Attention at URI

Kyle Murphy
Attleboro High grad Kyle Murphy earned first-team all-conference honors last year and is in the running for All-American honors this season for URI. (URI Athletics)

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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.”

First Half Goal Just Enough for KP at Canton

King Philip Boys Soccer
KP defender Matthew Clarke (15) and the rest of the Warriors back line kept Canton off the board to secure a 1-0 road win. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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CANTON, Mass. – The field seemed to be tilted towards the far end zone all night. In the first half of Thursday night’s game at WWII Veterans Memorial Field, King Philip threatened with every attack, creating a number of chances, and putting Canton on the back foot. After the break, the hosts turned the game around and suddenly had the Warriors on their heels.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

When you’re on top in the game, you have to find the back of the net. KP managed it once, junior Tadhg Keller tapping in a rebound in the 14th minute, and that turned out to be just about enough, as the back line held up against the Canton pressure and held on for a 1-0 win.

“They had a lot of momentum,” said KP coach Mike O’Neill about the pressure his team faced to preserve the lead in the second half. “I’m really happy. It’s a character win, these guys really grinded it out. It was close, it was touch-and-go for a while, but I’m proud of how my boys stuck to it.”

Canton had the game’s first shot on target, but it would end up being the only save that KP starting keeper Aidan Lindmark had to make in the first half, as the Bulldogs struggled to manufacture consistent offense in the opening 40 minutes.

KP grabbed control by exploiting the edges of the Canton defense. Junior Alex Leon had a bright start down the left and he slipped a pass into the channel for Andrew Robinson to have a shot just six minutes into the game. Five minutes later, Leon quickly turned on his defender and had a go from inside the box but hit the side netting.

In the 14th minute, KP got a free kick opportunity from about 25 yards out. Sophomore Caleb Casseta-Waxman curled a shot that seemed destined for the back of the net only for Canton keeper Alejandro Correal to fly across and get a fingertip to it and put it off the bar. The rebound fell to Keller, who took a touch to settle it before slamming the ball into the goal.

“I thought we played a relatively complete game today,” said Canton coach Danny Erickson, “but soccer comes down to moments and we fell asleep admiring our goalkeeper’s save. They didn’t fall asleep and they buried a rebound and that’s what happens.”

Just a minute later, the lead was very nearly doubled. This time KP attacked down the right. Wesley Orzell and Owen Teixeira played a one-two to get Orzell into space and he burst past the defender on the end line. The senior looked up and slid a pass to Casseta-Waxman, who was unmarked in the six-yard-box. Only a heroic intervention by freshman Carson Eagles kept the goalbound shot from hitting the back of the net.

The chances kept coming for the visitors. Evan McEvoy teed up Teixeira in the right channel and his shot flashed into the side netting, confusing some in the crowd, on the KP bench, and the scorekeeper who all thought it had gone into the top corner.

Stephen Griffin managed to hold possession against several Canton defenders and he set up McEvoy for a 20-yard strike that Correal held for one of his five first-half saves. A long cross from right back Matthew Clarke picked out Keller for a free header with just minutes to go before halftime, but the shot was easily grabbed by Correal.

Whatever was said at halftime seemed to work for the Bulldogs. Canton came out of the break inspired and instantly started to put pressure on the KP defense.

“I’d love to take massive credit for an inspirational halftime speech,” Erickson joked, “but I thought we were showing signs of really good stuff in the first half and we focused on those things. Honestly, they started winning some battles and feeling good about themselves and that results in good things.”

Just three minutes into the second half, Dylan Baird had a shot from a long way out that new KP keeper Grant Orzell had to collect at the second attempt, just in front of Jacob Crugnale. Five minutes later, Crugnale had a go from distance that took a touch off a KP boot before going over the bar. From the resulting corner, Colby Cifolillo rose highest but his goal-bound header was deflected wide of the post.

“We’re still a team that’s struggling to create chances and finish and that’s something that we’re going back to the drawing board to keep working on,” Erickson said.

Midway through the second half, freshman Jorge Sanchez set up Crugnale for a one-time hit but Orzell was able to get behind it. TJ McCabe had several shots from the edge of the box that the defense had to charge down. Despite the chances they were able to create, the Bulldogs just couldn’t find a way through and the KP back three of Clarke, Jordan Hoyle, and Jeremy White held firm.

“They are the core of this team and they are the rock, the wall we build, and we really rely on them,” said O’Neil of his defense. “In addition to be excellent defenders, they’re really skilled, composed, and they know what they’re doing.”

KP had a couple of chances on the break to try and put the game away. The best chance came for Anthony Zappala, but his curling effort from distance was collected by Canton back-up goalie Giovanni Ruggeri.

King Philip (3-1-2, 2-1-2) will get nearly a week off before traveling to division rival Attleboro on Wednesday. Canton (1-3-2, 1-3-1) will try to end its three-game losing streak when it hosts Sharon on Monday.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

OA’s Holmberg Inspires in Return to the Pitch

Erin Holmberg
OA senior Erin Holmberg had surgery in December to remove a tumor from her spine. Nine months later, she has six goals in her first four games of the new season. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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The pain started more than a year ago. It came at night when she tried to lay down in bed, but then would disappear during the day, and through it all Oliver Ames senior Erin Holmberg kept playing club and high school soccer, outdoor track, and basketball. A new pillow seemed to help take some of the pressure off her neck and allowed her to get some sleep, but gradually the pain increased and then it started lingering through the day or starting in early evening.

In December 2018, the pain became unbearable. Erin couldn’t sleep. She continued coming to school everyday because she didn’t want to miss basketball practices or games, but there was growing numbness in her right arm, in her back, and partially in her legs. It was becoming difficult to do not only the intricate tasks of a basketball player, but even to function in the classroom.

Doctors assumed that it was just a muscular problem and recommended physical therapy and stretching. It was only when the Holmbergs visited Boston Children’s Hospital that a low-grade glioma (a brain tumor that can sometimes grow in the spinal cord) was discovered in Erin’s neck.

“Obviously I was shocked and I didn’t know how to react,” Erin said. “The first thing I said to the nurse was, ‘Is this thing growing inside me?’ The pain was unbearable, so it was relieving that they found it and that the pain would finally go away if they removed it.”

Erin’s father Bob added, “The ‘not knowing’ part of how Erin was going to come out of this surgery was the scariest. I’ve told people the only thing that kept us from totally losing it during those days prior to the surgery was: knowing we were in the best place in the world for this kind of stuff.”

Not only was the more than eight-hour surgery successful, but Dr. Edward Smith, the pediatric neurosurgeon who performed the procedure, told the Holmbergs that they removed 99 percent of the tumor. Now, just nine months after having surgery and far from being clear of all the effects that the tumor caused, Erin is back on the pitch with the Tigers and not just playing but excelling.

She has scored six goals in OA’s opening four games, including two goals apiece in the first two games of the season. OA coach Britt Sellmayer said, “It’s awesome to see how far she has come, especially with all the hard work she has put into her rehab. I think it is nothing short of a miracle.”

Erin, who returned to her club team, NEFC Breakers, just 10 weeks after the surgery, said, “Playing soccer almost made me forget that I went through the whole situation, and it’s still like that now where I’m not constantly thinking about my disability with my arm. It makes me forget that I went through it because I can still play soccer.”

Mystery pain leads to Children’s Hospital

The pain started in the spring of last year but became far more intense during the early part of the basketball season. OA coach Laney Clement-Holbrook recalled that when the Tigers played Taunton (on Dec. 14), Erin didn’t look right in warm-ups but she was able to battle through the game. Afterwards, it was clear something was wrong and it only got worse over the next few days.

After several sleepless nights, Erin and her mother Paula went to Brockton Hospital but were told it was likely muscular and no MRI was given. “I couldn’t even stand being with my friends because of the pain,” Erin said. “I was just pacing the room, I couldn’t sit down because the pain was so bad, and my arm that night started to get more numb, which was a different symptom.”

On the advice of a family friend, the Holmbergs tried Children’s Hospital. According to Erin, they arrived in the middle of the night and were given an MRI just a few hours later. The results were explained to the family in the early evening. Bob said, “The initial diagnosis was very scary. They had to cut into her spinal cord, and try to remove as much of the tumor as possible.”

Spinal surgery is delicate and comes with inherent risk, but it was necessary. “I just wanted the pain to be over,” Erin admitted. Following surgery on Dec. 21, Erin was told that it was a success (“It was like a miracle,” Bob said) and that they were able to remove 99 percent of the tumor. “My dad came in and told me and that was the first time that I broke down into tears because I was so happy. That was the first time I cried, but it was tears of joy.”

Bob noted, “She had been an absolute rock throughout all of the scary meetings and diagnoses. Never breaking down, asking questions. Kind of like she is on the soccer field or basketball court: calm, cool and collected.”

Throughout the process, her friends and teammates from basketball and soccer showed support. Clement-Holbrook said that the Tigers got a video of Erin walking in the hospital a couple of days after the surgery and that a couple of players were able to see Erin to deliver stuffed animals that she could use to support her neck during recovery.

“One of the things I always talk about with my players is the value of sports and how someday they will be faced with a life changing moment,” Clement-Holbrook said. “It’s never a question of if, but a question of when. I told them that for Erin this was her when and that we needed to do everything in our power to help her recover and come back with us.”

Long path to recovery continues

The recovery process is ongoing. There are a number of symptoms remain, although there has been improvement. Physical and occupational therapy have improved the strength in Erin’s right arm, even if there is no definite prognosis for how long it could take the nerves to fully recover (if at all).

“I did teach myself how to write lefty because I couldn’t even hold a pencil,” Erin explained. “It was also hard sitting at school for long periods of time, so me and the nurse got very close.”

Holmberg (4) during the 2018 basketball season.

There are still nerve issues, such as tingling, numbness, and pain in her arm, back, and legs, but she continues to manage it and continues to push through both at school and in athletics. In fact, sports were a blessing in the recovery even when she could only watch from the sidelines.

“The basketball and soccer teams kept me sane because they’re all my best friends,” Erin said. “Coach Holbrook was like my mom during the whole thing. She was always checking up on me.”




As soon as she could, Erin was on the bench for the basketball team’s games, cheering the Tigers on during their playoff run. “Right when I got home I wanted to go to my basketball game and cheer them on,” she said. “I made sure to not make it about me. I wanted to be able to cheer them on and not have them feel bad for me all the time.”

Clement-Holbrook said, “The example that she set for all of us was powerful and inspirational to say the least. I credit her with our late run especially in the tournament because she would have done anything to be out there.”

Ten weeks after surgery, Erin was cleared to resume physical activities and she immediately jumped into club soccer. In her first game back, she scored a late goal to earn her team a draw. “My coach even said he was crying,” Erin said with a chuckle.

That form has continued for Oliver Ames this fall. Erin scored a brace in each of the first two games and in OA’s last game at North Attleboro she scored the opening goal of the afternoon (her sixth of the young season) and assisted on the other three OA goals. She has hit the ground running and has shown no signs of the struggles she has endured over the last year, even if symptoms still remain.

“I think my legs are still affected by it but I just don’t notice it as much,” she said. “The feeling is still vaguely off in my legs but it’s not noticeable so it doesn’t affect my running at all.”

Sellmayer said, “We knew the goals were going to come once we saw her in the preseason. All her fitness results were in the top three on the team. We were all just very happy for her and her family.” When asked if he thinks that Erin inspires her teammates, Sellmayer replied, “I feel Erin has been an inspiration to our whole community.”

Her family certainly appreciates being able to see her back on the pitch with her OA teammates and friends. Bob said, “Knowing what she has gone through and knowing that eight months ago, we didn’t know if she would ever play sports again, it kind of puts things into perspective. We are just happy that she is out there…Watching her be a teammate, co-captain and a leader, that’s what high school sports is all about, and we are just happy that she is still a part of it all.”

The recovery process will continue for a long time. Erin is still doing therapy to try and rebuild the strength in her right arm. There is still nerve pain, there is still numbness, and there are going to be numerous follow-up MRIs to keep an eye on the remaining tumor and make sure it isn’t growing.

This experience has given her a new appreciation for the games that she loves and cherishing each moment on the pitch or on the court.

“After I went through this and being told I could never play sports again I always say you never know how many more chances you get,” Erin reflected. “Even if you’re a junior, you never know what could happen, so you need to give everything, 100 percent.

“I’m very grateful that I am able to play and I’m going to give everything I have every day because you never know what can happen.”