Considering the naturally intense rivalry between two school districts that share a border, Kings High School graduate Zac Murphy had to feel a little discomfort when Miami hired Loveland coach Andrew Marlatt as the RedHawks’ special teams coordinator.
The experience hasn’t been all that bad, especially for Murphy.
“It’s not that hard,” he said with a laugh. “All that stuff kind of goes out the window in college. It is a weird coincidence.”
Actually, the fifth-year senior punter is thriving in Marlatt’s first season. Murphy has been one of the few bright spots in Miami’s 0-3 start. He leads the Mid-American Conference with an average of 49.8 yards per punt – almost 10 more than his previous career high of 40.5, which he set last season – and has already been named the MAC East Division Special Teams Player of the Week twice.
“He continues to be a special teams weapon for us,” third-year Miami coach Don Treadwell said.
Murphy punted eight times for 419 yards, an average of 52.4 yards per punt, in Miami’s 14-0 loss to Cincinnati last Saturday at Yager Stadium. Among his punts was an 84-yard rocket that broke the previous school and Yager Stadium records. Murphy was one of the main reasons the Bearcats had a difficult time mounting any kind of a sustained offense until late in the fourth quarter.
“He flipped the field on us,” UC coach Tommy Tuberville said.
Murphy could play a similar role in Miami’s non-conference matchup with the Big Ten’s Illinois at noon today in Champaign, Ill. The Fighting Illini, who beat Cincinnati, 45-17, on Sept. 7, average 437.7 yards and 37.0 points per game.
“With Illinois, you see what you see with a lot of Big Ten teams,” Treadwell said. “They’re huge.”
Another big day from Murphy, a 6-0, 207-pound middle childhood education major, would help neutralize the Illinois size advantage. Murphy, a third-team all-conference pick as a redshirt freshman in Miami’s 2010 MAC championship season, is confident that he can deliver.
“I definitely think just being able to relax is a big thing,” he said after practice on Tuesday. “It’s knowing that I’m a fifth-year senior and having four years of experience. I’ve learned how to handle game day.”
He relished the memory of his 84-yard punt, which broke the school record of 78 yards set by Gary Layton at Bowling Green in 1994. It also broke the Yager Stadium record of 76 yards set by Toledo’s Gabe Lindstrom in 1998. It was with the wind, but Murphy knew when it left his foot that it was special.
“It was just the smoothest going out,” he said. “I just felt super blessed to be put in that place.”
Unless Miami can find a way to get the offense from sputtering, with an average of 149.3 yards per game, to humming, Murphy can expect to spend a lot of time in that place. He’s already punted 28 times in three games, a pace that would leave him with 112 this season, shattering the school record of 80 set by Chris Ondrula in 1980 – Treadwell’s junior year.