GO STANFORD

Each year, thousands of high school students choose Stanford University because it is one of the greatest academic institutions in the world. But Trent Murphy left his home outside of Phoenix, Arizona, and headed more than 700 miles north to Palo Alto for one primary reason: to be a part of something special on the football field at The Farm.

A three-star recruit coming out of Brophy Prep, Trent carried five Division I scholarship offers, but it came down to one primary decision: Stay home and follow in his older sister’s footsteps at Arizona State in nearby Tempe, or attend Stanford.

But when Trent met head coach Jim Harbaugh, his decision was made. Coach Harbaugh was looking for players exactly like TM—one who would bring a toughness, nastiness and unending tenacity to the football field.

“They were going around every state, looking for the toughest guys that the state had to offer,” Trent said of Harbaugh and his staff. “They were trying to change the environment and atmosphere and the culture of the Stanford locker room and they needed some tough, hard-nosed, bring-your-lunch-pail-to-work kind of guys. He was like, ‘We know you’re tough, but we don’t know how tough you are. We’re recruiting these other defensive ends and we’re not sure who is the toughest, so it will be whoever can fight for the spot and win.’ He really presented it as a challenge.”

So Trent accepted the challenge, and by the time he left Stanford for the NFL five years later, he did so as one of the most decorated athletes in arguably the most successful class in Cardinal history.

GROWING ON THE FARM

Today as an NFL defensive lineman, Trent weighs 280 pounds, but he when entered Stanford, he was in the 230-pound range. So his first year on The Farm was spent growing and learning behind fifth-year senior Erik Lorig.

TM watched as the Cardinal went 8-5 and reached their first bowl game in nearly a decade: The first step in the squad’s resurgence. No. 93 was set to play a role on the defensive front in his second year. He notched a pair of tackles and a sack in his debut to open the 2010 season against Sacramento State—but his redshirt freshman campaign didn’t last long.

Trent broke his foot the following week in Stanford’s 35-0 win over UCLA, and the injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. The Cardinal finished 12-1, capping the campaign with a blowout win in the Orange Bowl. But the end of that season also marked the end of the Harbaugh Era. The Stanford head coach departed the college ranks and headed to the NFL, but not before imparting plenty of knowledge—as well as a winning mentality—on the program.

“Harbaugh is a huge, iron-sharpens-iron type of guy. If you can’t keep your head above water, he’s going to feed you to the sharks. It sounds cold-blooded, but it also makes for a very competitive, winning environment, so I definitely respect him that way and learned a lot. My freshman year we went to the Sun Bowl under him and then we went to the Orange Bowl in his last year. They were both pretty tough, cool years.”

With Harbaugh gone, the Stanford football program faced a critical point. But players like Trent and head coach David Shaw kept Harbaugh’s mentality, and continuing building Stanford into a perennial contender.

“We really didn’t miss a beat, to be honest. Everyone thought maybe it would let up a little bit, but Coach Shaw came in with a chip on his shoulder and wanted to prove that things were only going to get better and we were only going to get tougher,” Trent said. “Coach Shaw, strength coach Shannon Turley, Vic Fanigo’s 3-4 defense, they were all huge factors in how successful the program became. We just kept running full-stride.”

ON THE FIELD

When the 2011 season began with Shaw at the helm, Trent was healthy and ready to make his presence felt on the field.

He started all 13 games at outside linebacker, totaling 40 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks, which were good for second on the team and 56th nationally. The Cardinal defensive front was nasty, reflecting the mentality of its budding redshirt sophomore OLB. Stanford finished fourth in the nation in rush defense, allowing just 88.4 yards per game on the ground.

“I definitely wanted the offense of the opposing team to feel my presence out there, whether that was physically getting a big hit on the quarterback, or a couple of head butts in on an offensive line. I was just trying to be a disruptive, tormenting savage.”

The Cardinal rolled through their first seven games, winning by an average margin of 36 points. Then came an Oct. 29 visit to USC. The Trojans boasted one of the country’s top offenses, and the game teetered back and forth through all of regulation and three overtimes before Stanford came out on top, 56-48.

stanford_3

Two weeks later, the Oregon Ducks came calling in another presentation of what was one of the most heated and nationally significant rivalries in all of college football. Trent had his busiest game of the season against the speedy Oregon offense, notching a season-high 10 tackles, but the Ducks raced past the Cardinal 53-30, knocking them from the national title race.

Stanford went on and took down Cal and Notre Dame to close the year, and earn a second consecutive BCS Bowl bid—this one in the Fiesta Bowl in Trent’s home city. Both No. 4 Stanford and No. 3 Oklahoma State felt national championship-worthy, and they showed it in a 41-38 overtime thriller.

TM notched a third-down sack of Brandon Weeden that set up a go-ahead touchdown for Stanford early in the third quarter, but the Cardinal couldn’t hold on and ended up on the wrong side of a tight game. But even with the loss, the first BCS experience was one to remember for No. 93.

“It was an awesome experience for me, being from Arizona,” TM said of the Fiesta Bowl. “I played in the Cardinals’ stadium growing up in a couple of state championships, so to be able to come full circle and play there with Stanford was really cool. I felt like I had finally arrived a little bit. We had a chance to close out in the final seconds and didn’t finish. But being able to play there in front of the home crowd and friends and family, it was still pretty awesome for me.”

2012: THE YEAR OF TOUGHNESS

The Cardinal entered the offseason motivated after falling in the Fiesta Bowl—and it showed throughout the 2012 season.

Trent finished among the Top 20 players in the nation in both sacks (10) and tackles for a loss (18). And the Stanford defense improved collectively in his second season on the field, finishing No. 20 nationally in yards allowed and 11th in scoring defense, allowing just 17.2 points per game.

The Cardinal had their sights set on another BCS bid and a national championship run, even with the departure of quarterback Andrew Luck. With one of the best signal callers in college football history gone, the Cardinal defense knew it would have more of a load on its shoulders.

Trent and Co. came through in a big way in just the third game of the year, derailing USC’s national title train before it even gained momentum. No. 93 sacked Heisman Trophy hopeful Matt Barkley once, and the Stanford defense intercepted him twice in a 21-14 win.

“Matt Barkley was up for the Heisman. They were supposed to go all the way, and we just crushed their souls. That was a good notch on the belt to have.”

Unfortunately, Stanford slipped up on the road the following week. In a tough game, TM tried to give his squad a boost. Late in the third quarter, with the Cardinal up 6-3, Washington Huskies quarterback Keith Price looked to the flats for a dump-off, but Trent was there. He tipped Price’s pass up to himself and pulled it in and took it 40 yards to the house for a score. But that was his team’s only touchdown in a 17-13 defeat.

The Cardinal suffered a non-conference loss two weeks later—a 20-13 overtime defeat to Notre Dame despite 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks by No. 93.

After that second defeat, the Cardinal regrouped. Starting with a dominant 21-3 win over rival Cal, Stanford won its next seven games. That stretch was highlighted by one of the most thrilling wins in program history over the No. 1 ranked Oregon Ducks.

Trent logged two sacks and a pass deflection on the night at Autzen Stadium. Oregon led 14-7 late in the fourth quarter, when Trent pinned his ears back on 3rd-and-11 and brought down quarterback Marcus Mariota for a six-yard loss, forcing a punt. On the ensuing Stanford drive, Kevin Hogan found tight end Zach Ertz in the end zone for the game-tying touchdown.

stanford_4

Stanford’s defense was simply stifling in overtime. The Ducks netted just one yard in their OT series, leading to a missed 41-yard field goal. Jordan Williamson hit his field goal to answer, and give the Cardinal a monumental upset victory.

“I remember that one specifically because some of their guys were crying on the sidelines after the game. There were close-ups on their faces. And for us to be able to do that to them, going in as such an underdog, where nobody gave us a shot, and we just physically dominated them for four quarters, it was definitely special,” Trent says of his team’s 2012 win over Oregon.

It wasn’t just a crushing defeat for Oregon—it also set Stanford up to take the Pac-12 North. The Cardinal dispatched of UCLA on the road the following week, and they did it again just six days later in the conference championship game to earn a trip to the Granddaddy of Them All: The Rose Bowl.

But not long before the game, the Murphy family received some bad news: Trent’s dad, Jerry, was diagnosed with Stage 1 lung cancer. Just three days before Trent played in the Rose Bowl, Jerry had half of his right lung removed.

“It was definitely tough. It was crazy because everyone has always seen my dad as this big, godly, Zeus figure, that can’t be hurt or anything. So to see him mortal for a second was pretty tough for everyone. But at the same time it kind of showed you how close we all were, to come together and support him and help him.

He held on to it like a year for himself and didn’t want anyone to worry about him until he was getting ready for the procedure. He was kinda like, ‘By the way, I have lung cancer. I’ve got to go get my lung chopped out.’ We’re like, ‘What?!’ That was probably the hardest part, was finding out that he had to carry that burden by himself for so long.”

A post-surgery follow up showed Jerry to be cancer free. Just three months later, he returned to work moving water heaters up hills in the relentless Arizona heat, proving just how deep toughness runs through the Murphy veins.

But the hard times were followed by good times. Stanford faced a similar opponent in the Wisconsin Badgers. The two blue-collar programs put on a terrific slugfest, but the Cardinal came out on top 20-14. And Trent was thrilled to win one for his father.

“I just remember sending everything home for him, every name plate, jersey, bowl gift, everything. I’ve got this picture of him sitting in a chair with all the stuff on and around, grinning ear to ear. That’s one of the biggest reasons I always kept playing so passionately was being able to give all those perks and gifts to them, and share it all with them. It’s really meant the world. I could care less about hanging jerseys and trophies on my wall, but I know that it means a lot more to them.”

The win was also monumental for the Stanford football program: It was the team’s first Rose Bowl win in more than 40 years.

“It was huge. The whole Stanford fan base, they love nothing more than a Rose Bowl and a Rose Bowl victory. And to bring that to school, to put us on the map a little bit and have everyone give some respect to what we were doing over there was big time,” Trent says. “I still remember the whole team sitting in the lobby together afterwards, just grinning from ear to ear and knowing we accomplished something that was pretty special.”

A CALCULATED DECISION

Trent earned several second- and third-team All-America honors for his redshirt junior season at Stanford, and thus had a decision to make: Go pro, or go back to school.

In the end, his Stanford education was the decision maker—but not in the way one would think.

Three major factors played into TM’s decision, the first being his father’s health. He considered heading to the draft early to help his family financially as his dad went through treatment.

Second was his team. Trent made a commitment when he came in, and Stanford, particularly on defense, had a tremendous class coming back for their fourth or fifth years in 2013. Nearly every starter across the defense was either a fourth- or fifth-year senior—but Trent ultimately decided to come back because of a class he took at Stanford: decision analysis.

stanford_2

For his final project for the class, he weighed leaving early against staying. And after choosing Stanford because of football, Trent stayed thanks to its academics.

“Statistically speaking, in almost every outcome, graduating in the long term was more financially successful than leaving a year early, especially with the average NFL career being around 2.5 years,” Trent surmised. “It was risky to come back. It could have gone terribly wrong, but I thought that I had my fate in my owns hands and was going to take the bull by the horns and go back.”

SUPER SENIOR

After making his decision, Trent set out to make sure everyone knew that his breakout fourth year was no fluke.

He did more than just that. The country boy from the outskirts of Arizona solidified himself as one of the best defensive players in college football, and in Stanford history. Before the season, Trent was named a team captain, as chosen by his teammates, and at the end of the year, he was a semifinalist for the Bednarik and Lombardi Awards, and was a consensus All-American.

No. 93 had 15 sacks, more than any other player in college football. His 23.5 tackles for a loss were good for second in the nation. The Cardinal were a Top 10 scoring defense and were third nationally against the rush. No defensive front was feared more than the one featuring Trent rushing from the edge—Stanford led the nation with 44 sacks for 310 yards. That team success, drove to one of the best individual seasons in school history.

“It was a great thing to be a part of,” Trent said of his time at Stanford. “It was a lot of work, especially to stay on top of all the new talent they were bringing in, and keeping my starting role. I definitely had a chip on my shoulder my whole time there, like somebody was right at my heels, trying to take my job, or trying to beat me, or another outside linebacker on another team was out-working me somewhere. So I was very, very obsessed with my work ethic and everything I was doing, almost to an unhealthy level.”

With his degree mostly finished, Trent kept his academic workload light his senior year and dove head-first into preparing for his career in the NFL.

“It was really a great transitional year to the NFL because I really was a professional football player that year. That was all I did. I could watch extra tape and pick up things from the film I had never even thought of before. Every week I would be in there for hours, watching film on this big screen until I found something. I just needed one gem every week that would help me—and sure enough, every week I would be put in a situation that I saw on tape and I knew exactly what to do. I was able to crank out one or two sacks a game almost all season and it was pretty cool. It was a cool feeling to put in the work and be rewarded.”

Trent’s super senior year began with a two-sack game in a win over San Jose State. Another highlight came on the road a few weeks later against Washington State. Similar to his pick a year prior against UW, TM showed off his athleticism, snaring an Austin Apodaca pass off the line, and returning it 30 yards for a touchdown. Stanford rolled to a 55-17 win over the Cougars.

Unfortunately, the Cardinal slipped up twice on the road in the ultra-competitive Pac-12 Conference, falling to Utah and USC—but they won a big one at home when it counted. No. 5 ranked Stanford played host to No. 3 Oregon on Thursday night in primetime. No. 93 split a sack and spearheaded a defensive effort that held the high-flying Ducks to just 312 total yards and 62 yards on the ground while ending Oregon’s national title hopes for a second consecutive season.

That win once again gave the Cardinal a leg up in the Pac-12 North. Stanford smashed Cal, 63-13, to close out its conference slate, and finished the regular season with a win over Notre Dame. Then Trent headed home once again. He had one sack and seven tackles to lead Stanford to a dominant 38-17 win over Arizona State on the road in the Pac-12 title game—one last hurrah in a terrific collegiate career on the West Coast that brought back-to-back league championships.

“We really dominated the Pac-12,” Trent said. “After we were winning, we wanted everyone’s best shot. I mean, Cal is supposed to be our rivalry game, but it seemed like every week was a rivalry game for us. Notre Dame is a rivalry. USC is a rivalry. Oregon is a rivalry. UCLA was a rivalry. So it was almost like every week we were playing in a big game, a big rivalry match, a big grudge match, and we just tried to set the tone.”

The second straight Pac-12 crown earned Stanford another trip to the Rose Bowl, where they played perhaps the only team in the nation that could rival their defensive tenacity: Michigan State. It was another Pac-12-Big 10 slugfest. No. 93 added sack No. 15 and four total tackles on the day in Pasadena, but the Cardinal came up just short in a 24-20 defeat.

stanford_5

Despite the defeat in his final collegiate outing, Trent saw his fifth year, and his entire time at Stanford, as an enormous success.

“I came back had 15 sacks, so it was definitely an awesome three years and a cool way to cap off my career—not to mention all the team’s success with winning a Rose Bowl and going to a second Rose Bowl. Coming up a little short, but it was a great thing to be a part of. That fifth year and my time at Stanford was hugely successful to my growth as a football player and as a person.”

“I definitely tip my hat to our coaches at Stanford. They were able to stay on top of us and push us in practice. They would keep pushing us to push each other every day and made practices 10 times harder than the game, so when we went out there it was a no-brainer. We worked so hard that we refused to lose and it definitely made it easy.”

“Football was my world. It was something I committed a lot to, but being able to walk away with a Stanford degree was also hugely important to me. It carries the weight of gold.”