TAMPA — When Frank Murphy transferred to Plant during the summer after his freshman season at Strawberry Crest, he just wanted to fit in. He was the leading receiver (19 catches, 174 yards, three touchdowns) for a team that went 0-10. Now he was joining a team that makes a habit of playing in the state tournament.
"Honestly, when I first got here I just wanted to get in the rotation," Murphy said. "It was hard coming in, and I didn't think I'd be able to play. It wasn't probably until our last 7-on-7 that I got into the rotation."
And he has not left.
Murphy has emerged as the Panthers' leading receiver. He enters Friday's Class 7A state semifinal at Bartram Trail with 31 catches for 618 yards and 12 touchdowns. At 5-foot-8, 160 pounds, Murphy is far from physically imposing. But he's a playmaker.
"He's super tough," coach Robert Weiner said. "Viera played us very tight (in the region semifinals) and we picked up some first downs to him where he got smacked right when he caught it. He never dropped one of them. We can count the times he's had a legitimate chance to catch a ball and didn't on one hand. He's just been spectacular."
The fact that Murphy is a talented wide receiver is not surprising, though he didn't start at the position. His father, Frank Murphy Sr., played five years in the NFL, four of them with the Bucs. He was a receiver and kick returner.
Murphy Jr. spent his early years as an offensive lineman. It wasn't until three years ago that he decided he would rather catch the ball than block big defensive linemen.
"He came to me one day and said he wanted to play wide receiver," Murphy Sr. said. "I was honest with him. I told him he was too big. He was chubby. I told him to lose the weight and then I would help him. I don't know how he lost the weight but he did it. So I started helping him with the fundamentals."
That meant some pretty intense sessions with his dad. Murphy Sr. didn't take it easy on his son. There were tough workouts on the field and there was also film work. One day, Murphy Jr. wasn't giving his all during a workout. That did not sit well with dad.
"I told him if you aren't going to do this 100 percent then I'm taking you out of it," Murphy Sr. said. "That's just how I am. I'm a football guy and I know how hard you have to work to stay in it. I told him I refuse to come to a practice or a game to see you loaf. That's too tough for me."
Murphy Jr., who at the time lived with his mother in Plant City, got the message.
"I remember a time when he told me that he wasn't going to help me if I didn't start taking stuff seriously," he said. "When he went away I realized how big he was to completing my dream, so I came around and did what I had to do. And his influence from playing wide receiver helped me play receiver."
The Murphys decided the best place to start his high school career was at Strawberry Crest, where he could live with his mom and play on varsity right away. Had he gone to Plant as a freshman, he would have been a junior varsity player.
Once his freshman year was complete, Murphy Jr. moved in with his father on Harbour Island. Murphy Sr. said he looked at Jesuit and Tampa Catholic before deciding on Plant.
It is now apparent that Plant will have a versatile receiver for the next two years. Weiner uses Murphy as his "Z" receiver, who is responsible for not only catching long balls, but short throws over the middle.
"The thing about him that we noticed right from the beginning is that he is so open to learning," Weiner said. "He's a sponge. We first learned that when he started asking really good questions. A lot of times out here kids ask you questions and you think, they just proved against the theory that every question is a good question, but Frank really asked good questions."
While Murphy Sr. is not on the Plant coaching staff, he is at most practices and every game. He knows his son has potential and could follow in his footsteps as a professional player. But he also knows the game can be taken away at any moment. So he is making sure there's a backup plan.
"I told him if he doesn't have a plan then he can't play football anymore," Murphy Sr. said. "I don't ever want to hear him say, 'Man, without football I don't know what I'll do.' If I ever hear that he won't play football again. … He put together a plan. He wants to be a veterinarian. This summer I'm going to have him intern so that he can be prepared."