GAINESVILLE — As Jeff Driskel squirmed on the turf, waving to the sideline for help Saturday, Florida fans watched and worried.
If the junior was out with an injury, what would happen?
A handful of coaches and teammates knew. John Campanello was one of them.
Campanello was at home in Wethersfield, Conn., watching as Tyler Murphy, the quarterback he coached at Wethersfield High, trotted onto the field. Despite never having thrown a college pass, the 21-year-old redshirt junior proceeded to lead the Gators to five scores in 10 drives in a 31-17 victory against Tennessee.
"I thought he kept his poise. He kept his composure," Campanello said. "It's been a goal he's wanted and he stuck by that goal. … Tyler's a very focused young man. He's a hard worker, and he's very determined."
Teammates have seen that determination on the practice field, even when he toiled at the bottom of the depth chart.
"He practices like he's the starter," UF offensive lineman Max Garcia said. "When we do pregame walk-throughs at the hotel on Friday nights, he's locked in. He's very knowledgeable about the offense. I feel just as comfortable with Tyler Murphy as I was with Driskel."
When Driskel had an appendectomy at the start of fall camp, Murphy spent eight days in the starter's role, exhibiting the same demeanor and work ethic he always has.
"Tyler was my roommate on campus (last year), so I've witnessed him put in work consistently," senior cornerback Jaylen Watkins said. "He went from being a third-string quarterback (but) he always prepared like his chance was going to come. So that's why I'm not surprised. We've seen him produce in practice. When Jeff was out in camp, (Murphy) had a good camp. So when he went in the game, nobody was scared, and nobody was shocked at what he was doing."
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Longtime Gator fans know the unfamiliar quarterback thrust into the featured role story line.
In 1984, they saw little-known redshirt freshman Kerwin Bell out of the small town of Mayo work his way up from eighth string to starter when fifth-year senior Dale Dorminey went down with a knee injury four days before the season opener.
Bell, now the football coach at Jacksonville University, said his situation was a little different in that his wait time was much shorter, but he knows what Murphy is going through.
"Tyler's had to wait his turn, he's been very patient and it's been a lot longer journey for him," Bell said. "I think the big thing is when it happens, especially during the season like that, the most important thing is you've got to recognize what your strengths are. And what he has is a very good football team around him, especially defensively. And as a quarterback when you go in those situations, you just try to make sure that you don't screw it up, which means make sure you take care of the football. That's the No. 1 priority. If you do that, good things are going to happen. You've got enough people around you to help you out."
Bell said as Murphy moves into his starting role, the more confident he becomes and the more success he has, the more his teammates will trust and follow. Very much like Bell's first game, a 32-20 loss to defending national champion Miami in Tampa, when he converted on two fourth downs in the fourth quarter to rally from six down for a 20-19 lead with 41 seconds left before losing.
"Those guys being around him in the offseason, he probably didn't realize this, but that went a long ways in him being able to step in and people trusting him," Bell said. "From what I understand (Murphy) went in, led his team down the field and made a couple of really nice plays (against Tennessee). And as he continues to make those plays, then they'll gain more and more confidence in him."
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Ask Campanello why Murphy wasn't a more highly recruited player and he doesn't have a good answer. What he can tell you is Murphy was an all-state triple jumper who ran a spread offense and also was a kick and punt returner who led the state in returns his senior year. He had three punt returns and two kickoff returns for touchdowns, including the first time he touched the ball on a kickoff. And whenever Murphy went to camps — UConn, Temple, Syracuse — they offered scholarships.
And Campanello can also tell you that nobody ever outworked Murphy. And that, the coach believes, is why he's going to make the most of this opportunity.
"He would come in the morning before school started to the weight room to get all his lifting in," Campanello said. "He'd be here waiting for me when I got here. His determination was very strong, even at a young age, and he was very focused in what he wanted to do. … He's extremely well-respected within the community and very humble, very within himself. I think he came across that way in his interview after the game. And that's him. That's not fake. That's who Tyler is."
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Florida coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease insist the offense won't change much with Murphy replacing Driskel, who is out for the season with a broken right fibula.
But things will change now for Murphy, even Muschamp acknowledges that. He caught the Vols by surprise; Kentucky will have game video. Pease said he expects the Wildcats to pressure Murphy and have someone keying on him to stop the run.
Muschamp said he expects Murphy "to handle it like a champion."
On Saturday night, Murphy will be announced as the starting quarterback. He said it won't change him at all.
"I'll have butterflies, I'm sure," he said. "I'll be anxious, but, you know, I'll get out there and maybe complete my first pass. Once I get hit, I think I'll be fine. But I don't think it will be as bad as it was this week. … I'm just happy for the opportunity."