Photo credit - Caleb Murphy on Instagram

“This means so much to him” — Caleb Murphy’s unexpected start at center brought emotions and earned praise

Although Cameron Knight came out for pregame warmups in a boot, there was no indication Caleb Murphy would see the field at center on Saturday against Western Kentucky.

When he arrived at IU in 2020, there was no indication he’d ever play that position in college.

Murphy was recruited as a defensive lineman, moved to tight end during his freshman season, might have moved back to the defense, and this spring head coach Tom Allen indicated the Campbellsburg, Ind. product had moved to the offensive line.

It sounded like 2022 would be a developmental year for Murphy, as he got his body built up and learned the technical art of playing center.

Murphy added size, proved to be a quick study, and he was quietly passing folks on the depth chart.  But was he ready to start?

Ready or not, Murphy’s number was called on Saturday morning when starting center Zach Carpenter was injured before the game.  Knight was listed on the week three depth chart as Carpenter’s backup, so the first player from West Washington H.S. to play football at Indiana would be making his first career college start.

And he’d be doing it at a position he probably never dreamed he’d play at IU when he accepted Allen’s scholarship offer on the spot at a camp in 2019.

“Caleb Murphy, how about that? Comes in there, plays every snap of this game, and I’m so proud of him,” Allen said on Saturday after Indiana’s 33-30 overtime win.

The weight of it all — the work that went into learning yet another position, his first start, an emotional game — it got to Murphy on the field.

“The kid just cried when I hugged him after the game,” Allen said.  “This means so much to him, this program, this university. He’s from Indiana not that far away. First player from his high school to come play at Indiana, and just an awesome thing. It means a lot to him to be playing in these games with the Indiana Hoosiers on his chest.

“Guys like that make this special, and I’m so proud of him, and he’s just going to keep getting better, too. He’s a young player we moved from defense to offense, so that’s what I think of when I think of this team.”

Carpenter remained on the field in uniform throughout the game, and Allen seemed to indicate whatever he was dealing with wasn’t serious.

“Lost our starting center during warmups, which is crazy,” Allen said.  “I don’t know that we’ve ever had that happen in the past before.  We’ll see more about Carp’s situation, but hopefully get him back.”

Murphy was listed at just 260 pounds as a freshman in 2020, and just 245 pounds before his 2019 senior year of high school — a year that saw him get injured the first game of the season, providing yet another complication on his path at the next level.

But by week three of his third season at IU, Murphy was over 290 pounds, and working his way up the depth chart at center.

It was a long journey full of twists and turns to his improbable spot in the starting lineup on Saturday.

Perhaps that’s why when Murphy’s number was called, he knew his quarterback might need some reassurance.

“‘No matter what, I’m going to protect you with my life,’ he literally said that,” quarterback Connor Bazelak shared after the game.

Murphy was by no means perfect, and no one could reasonably have expected that in this scenario.  But Josh Henderson’s critical 19-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was right through a path Murphy cleared.  And in the end, his performance in a pinch earned Bazelak’s seal of approval.

“I love that guy,” he said.  “Caleb Murphy did an unbelievable job.  He’s a fighter, he loves his teammates, unbelievable person.  Can’t say enough good things about him.”

Two more things you can say about him — Murphy finally has a position — he’s a center.

And he was ready.

Photo credit – IU Athletics

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