Player Feature: Harvard Football's Kevin Murphy

Kevin Murphy in action against Cornell in an Ivy League game at Ithaca, N.Y. on Oct. 8, 2011. Buy Now
Kevin Murphy in action against Cornell in an Ivy League game at Ithaca, N.Y. on Oct. 8, 2011.

-by Carl Ehrlich '09-10

Depending on what time it is, you're likely to find any number of Kevin Murphys.

If it's the morning, you'll probably catch Kevin Murphy, the student. Taking the biomedical track to his degree in Engineering Sciences, Murphy's major is one of the most time-intensive at Harvard. Between classes, sections, homework and the laboratory time his major demands, Murphy is in scholar-mode from the minute he wakes up.

If it's the afternoon, you'll probably find Kevin Murphy, the football player. Coming into his second season as the starting left tackle, the 6-foot-7, 300-pound Murphy brings a silent swagger and remarkable work ethic to each practice. Given his size and natural athleticism, he could probably get by on talent alone, but Murphy has been working tirelessly with offensiveline coach Joe Conlin to perfect his technique.

And in the evening —if you catch him in that rare moment of free time—you'll get a glimpse of his roots. Sitting on his bed, back leaned against a wall covered in surfing pictures, Murphy will grab his guitar, flip his hair back and play a couple songs. This is a side of him that captain Alex Gedeon, and each of Murphy's other roommates, refers to as the "Cali-bro" side.

Sometimes these worlds overlap.

Kevin Murphy the scholar spent the last summer working with Professor Kit Parker on cutting-edge research relating to traumatic brain injuries. With school back in session and the football season underway, not only has Murphy's lab work continued, but he's taken his research on the road. Literally.

While most of the team uses road trips as a vacation from academics, Murphy is plugging away at his research. Using multiphysics software, Murphy spends his road trips designing computational models that predict how neurons will behave when they undergo trauma from external force.  Then he goes out on a rival's turf and plants defensive ends in the sod.

Kevin Murphy the football player and Kevin Murphy the Cali-bro had a telling overlap last pre-season. During a rare off-day during the pre-season schedule, most of the Crimson spent their day indoors, licking their wounds and catching up on some sleep. Kevin Murphy the football player probably would've preferred to do the same, but the Cali-bro in him had other plans.

Rather than recovering for the next day of practice, the California surfer in Murphy beckoned him to the T station in Harvard Square. Alone, Murphy took the train out to Revere Beach to get "one last look at the ocean," before school and football were in full swing. One imagines the silhouette of a 6-foot-7 offensive tackle, the only figure on the beach, staring out at the water.

Kevin Murphy the scholar and Kevin Murphy the Cali-bro probably come into the most contact, as Murphy has to flip his hair (he prides himself on having the "best flow" on the team) out of his eyes every time he goes "under the hood" (Murphy's term for the time he spends looking into microscopes).

While these three worlds may seem disjointed, there are certain commonalities that underlie all of them.

The most common of those things is his work ethic.

"Kevin doesn't need anyone to know how hard he is working for him to work hard," roommate Hugh Archibald explains. "He just shows up at practice or lift and almost silently works on his craft day in and day out. People always talk about his size, length and athleticism as if they made him the player he is, but those things have been amplified and honed by purposeful and persistent hard work."

That hard work shows up everywhere in Murphy's life. From his work in the lab, to his focus on zone blocking to the discipline behind his diet, Murphy's success comes as a product of his commitment. It even extends into his guitar playing, a hobby he makes a point of practicing every day.

Another one of these underlying traits is selflessness.

When asked about Murphy's prospects in the NFL, Head Coach Tim Murphy had glowing optimism for the San Clemente native's future.

"At 6 foot 7, 300 pounds and very athletic, Kevin is probably the best NFL offensive line prospect we have had since (multiple Pro Bowler and current Baltimore Raven) Matt Birk."

Murphy's roommates think the same. Knowing their reaction makes him uncomfortable, they rib him and openly discuss which team they'd like him to play for.

Murphy, meanwhile, is willing to discuss everything except his football future. He speaks freely about the research he has planned for the spring—research that will advance our understanding of the human brain under trauma-- but makes no mention of training for an NFL tryout.

When asked about his NFL aspirations, he gets quiet and quickly dismisses the subject.

"I'm not thinking about that," Murphy says. "It would be unfair to my teammates if I was thinking about the NFL while we were in the midst of an Ivy League championship race."

This demonstrates another facet of all of Murphy's different personas -- perspective. 

"How he gets through a bio-mechanical engineering course load while playing football is beside me," roommate Matt Hanson reflects. "There are some days after an all-nighter and a full day of tests and football where the man looks like he was hit by a truck mentally and physically, but he doesn't say "woe is me"—ever—and just keep going with his Cali spirit."

Throughout everything he does, Murphy remains conscious of the bigger things at work. He realizes things are greater than himself. That his lab work, though tiring, contributes to our understanding of the human brain. That football practice, though difficult and sometimes monotonous, makes himself a better player for his team. That abandoning the warm SoCal beaches for the frigid cold of New England wouldn't be easy, but it served a greater purpose.

All of these things—his perspective, his selflessness, and his work ethic—are key components to making Kevin Murphy who he is. They are what make him not only a successful student and football player, but are also the reason he is so widely respected in the locker room. Ultimately, Murphy reflects, it's the respect of his teammates that matters the most to him.

And who couldn't respect a player like Kevin Murphy? Someone who works so tirelessly, who pushes himself so hard and never asks for acknowledgement. Someone who's achieved so much in his career and yet continues to reach for the next level.

Someone who, sitting in his dorm room after a long day of lab work and practice, dressed in a tank-top and football shorts, closes his multiphysics software, plops down on his bed, tosses his "flow" back, and picks up his guitar.