STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — The tough and tenacious way Trent Murphy plays football can be traced to his early years growing up just a few miles away from where the outside linebacker will take the field for Stanford against Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship game Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.
Murphy, who leads the nation with 13 sacks, grew up in a rural area of Mesa, Ariz. He comes from a large family of large people who raised him to work hard and fight for everything.
"It's part of his genetic makeup," said his father, Jerry Murphy, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound contract plumber and cancer survivor who instilled that blue-collar attitude in his oldest son more than anybody. "People that know me say I'm a mean son of a (expletive). My grandfather was a mean sucker. Both my grandparents and my mother and my father were just mean cusses. My wife's father, he was a mean guy. It just slides down to my son.
"But then, you know what? If there's a kitten on the side of the road, he's going to stop and help it. If there's a bully beating the crap of a kid, he's going to beat the crap out of the bully. That's the way he was raised."
Murphy's menacing ways — along with his bald head, short beard and pale Dutch skin — have earned him the nickname "Yeti" among his Stanford teammates, after the legendary creature of the Himalayas. Cardinal coach David Shaw has called Murphy "a nasty, physical player who's in his own category."
For Murphy's family, though, he will always just be Trenton — an All-American kid from the Arizona desert who learned the values of hard work and tough love at an early age.
Once, his father dumped a trash can of grass clippings, rotten oranges and dog manure Murphy had just cleaned up all over the yard because he thought his son didn't do a good enough job. Another time, he took off his shirt and tossed Murphy a stick, telling him to pretend it was a knife and try to stab him. Murphy did as he was told, and his father wrapped his shirt around the stick and snatched it to teach his son how to defend himself.
That served Murphy well when he started taking Taekwondo lessons. Murphy's first match came at 9 years old and, much to the surprise of his parents, it was full contact.
"Most kids would be afraid of that," Jerry said. "Trenton went up there, and my wife and I are looking at each other like, 'This Taekwondo match between 9-year-old kids, they're actually hitting each other?' We were like shocked. Trenton's turn was up. This kid had just knocked two kids out. He went to do a roundhouse kick on Trenton, and Trenton just caught this kid's foot and knocked the kid out like nothing."
When he was in middle school, Murphy got involved in team roping with his father, who built a rodeo arena on their property — along with a 1,200-square foot weight room. The family owned horses and also had a 400-pound steer calf that Murphy would grab by the horns and wrestle with "just for fun."
Jerry and his wife, Laurie, would take the family on fishing and hiking trips in an old Chevy Suburban. The outdoors kept them all in shape, and they encouraged their seven children — now ages 30 to 4 — to participate in sports.
Murphy played organized football in fifth grade, but he stopped because of constant plantar fasciitis. As a freshman at Brophy College Preparatory, an all-boys Jesuit high school in Phoenix, he tried out for the swimming team. He left the pool after a week.
"He came home and said, 'I can't wear Speedos," Laurie Murphy said.
One of Murphy's three older sisters, Kayli, a 6-foot-2 former Arizona State basketball player in her first year as a graduate assistant for the Sun Devils, tried to help her brother on the hardwood. That turned out to be a lost cause, too.