Eastern Washington has a 12th man too.
The news came out of the blue early this week, much like the recent injuries in the Eastern Washington secondary: Former Eagle safety McKenzie Murphy, whose college football eligibility apparently ended last year, was back in the game.
And looking like he never left.
“Thank goodness he’s not one of those guys who puts on 30 pounds when he was done playing,” Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said of Murphy, who’s fresh off an all-campus flag football title.
“He was pretty pumped up about that,” said Baldwin, who got pretty excited himself when he learned from the school’s compliance officials that Murphy has another year of eligibility.
That the news comes in mid-November instead of midsummer had to do with Murphy’s situation, not any foot-dragging by the NCAA.
Murphy, a graduate student who also teaches two classes in the computer sciences department, said he originally started the appeal process in the summer to get the waiver, but an academic internship conflicted with early-season practices. He said the NCAA responded quickly after receiving his final documentation last week, and within 24 hours was eligible again.
Just in time. The Eagles have lost three safeties to injury in the past three weeks, though Allen Brown and Todd Raynes could return to action Saturday at Cal Poly.
“When the injuries starting occurring, the coaches and I started joking about my eligibility,” Murphy said. (Defensive coordinator) John Graham comes up to me and said, ‘I’d sure like to have your year back right now.’ ”
And so he is. Murphy, 24, has practiced this week and will travel to where he may play in the secondary and on special teams, but the payoff may come later, Baldwin said.
“You don’t want to put too much on the young man,” Baldwin said. “He’ll have an impact right away on defense and special teams. What it is this week, we’ll see, but later he’ll be in position to help even more.”
Murphy’s 10-month absence from the game is nothing compared to his earlier 2½-year layoff.
Murphy, a 2008 graduate at Ferris High School, played that fall season at Western Washington, which dropped its program the following January. He stayed at Western the next three years and eventually received his degree in accounting, and is now pursuing his master’s degree at EWU in computer science.
He transferred to Eastern in January 2012 and played for EWU that fall.
This time around, Murphy said his goal “is just to help out where I can, help out with the injuries they have and give them a comfort level.”