Running Back, 2006-2009
The rest of the Iowa kickoff coverage ran around him. Jayme Murphy didn’t see the point.
Then a redshirt freshman on the 2007 Hawkeyes, he lined up the blocker during practice drills. He took off full speed and knocked him off his feet before tackling the bag that represented the return man.
It caught the attention of everyone, in particular assistant strength coach James Dobson. He approached Murphy and told him he was a like an Irish car bomb.
The nickname stuck.
“I said that’s kind of cool but there are a lot of connotations with that. We have to be careful. It kind of took off. Continued performance helped it,” Murphy said.
His all-out play on special teams resulted in four diagnosed concussions during his freshman and sophomore seasons. They ended his career prematurely and led him into his future career.
Murphy finished his Master’s in Public Health at the University of Minnesota in May. He then began a fellowship at the National Sports Complex (NSC) just outside of the Twin Cities.
Much of his grad school projects looked at concussions. He’s been working on a paper researching the concussion rates occurring during the NSC’s USA Cup youth soccer tournament, the largest such event in North America.
“I was trying to figure out what to do about concussions and I could find a lot of great answers on just how many are happening. Now, there are lot of reasons for that. I do think there needs to be a better base of epidemiology studies on how and when concussions are happening and to who and then from a public health perspective, once we understand that better, we might better understand who to target and how to lesson that burden,” Murphy said.
He’ll take a break from his research and work this weekend to entertain his Iowa friends traveling to Minneapolis, where the Hawkeyes face rival Minnesota in the Battle for Floyd of Rosedale. His tour through graduate school has not changed his allegiances.
“I had to compartmentalize that part of my life. It might have made me a bigger Hawk fan in the end, anyway,” he said.
Murphy gave up his body as a special teams dynamo during the 2007 and ’08 seasons. The job of running down the field at full speed and crashing into other humans came naturally to him.
He may have suffered more concussions than what were diagnosed. He believed he sustained some growing up, sledding in the winter or taking part in other activities he sought out.
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“There’s something about people who search out contact and I was one of those individuals. I was going to find a way to run into something on or off the football field,” he said.
“On kickoffs you see people that have this protective instinct to not run as fast as they can and hit the person at full speed. I just didn’t have that. That’s probably directly responsible for the all of the concussions,” Murphy said.
He grew up in Dubuque dreaming of playing special teams at Iowa. While at Senior High, he watched guys like Matt Melloy, Marcus Schnoor, Devin Moylan and Zach Gabelmann walk on from instate schools and make names for themselves.
“My goal going into college was to be an Iowa Hawkeye football player. I didn’t have the same NFL aspirations everyone else did,” he said.
Murphy entered the Iowa fans’ consciousness as a redshirt freshman in ’07 during a game against Wisconsin. He blasted the Badger kick returner at the beginning of the third quarter that resulted in a fumble recovered by Iowa. It was one of those plays that brings the oohs and aahs from the crowd.
The moment moved Murphy, who grew up halfway between Iowa City and Madison. He had made it.
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“Getting to be on that stage in a night game, I feel like I was finally able to hit my groove there as a freshman. That allowed me to put a little bit of a stamp on who I wanted to be out there on the field,” he said.
Hard hits like that one took their roll. After the four diagnosed concussions, Murphy met with head coach Kirk Ferentz following the ’08 season. They talked about a reduced roll. He wanted no part of being reduced.
He ended up volunteering as an assistant coach that year, spending most of his time with the special teams. He spent another year finishing school at Iowa and worked on the Iowa City Regina High staff during the ’10 season.
It’s always tough to leave the game as a player, but he was at peace.
“I felt like I exceeded some expectations. I played as a freshman and sophomore a lot. So knowing that I left everything that I could out there and because I knew there was nothing I could do. I was fine in closing that chapter of my life and not having any regrets about it, either,” he said.
The coaches always made Murphy feel wanted even though he wasn’t playing a glamorous position. He started at defensive back and switched to running back, but his job was special teams.
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“It’s such an important piece of a football game and Coach Ferentz was always sure to let you know how important special teams were. You felt like you were doing a job just as important as offense or defense just you’re on the field a lot less so you really have to make your plays count,” he said.
Murphy double-majored in Psychology and Healthy Promotion at Iowa. He took a job selling medical devices in the Twin Cities after graduation. The company he joined folded about a year later and he bounced around in that field for a bit. As a three-time academic all-Big Ten performer, he felt it was time to go back to school.
“I did well in school for a reason and that reason was in case I needed to go back to graduate school. I thought public health would be a good avenue to leverage that undergraduate degree,” he said.
While he and his wife of four years, Calla, don’t get back to Iowa City often because of their busy schedules, they do watch the Hawkeyes every weekend. They also stay connected with his former teammates, Colin Sandeman and Chad Greenway, who live in Minneapolis.
“A lot of my best memories from Iowa are just the friends that I’ve made. My teammates were wonderful,” he said.
Murphy played a big role on the ’08 team that got Iowa going back in the right direction after a couple of down years.
“It was a unique time to be part of the program going through some struggles but knowing that we had a really tough group of young guys that were ready to take that team over. That was really cool to watch that 2008 squad really build into something, get to the Outback Bowl and thump South Carolina. That team was operating at a level at the end of the season that we could have competed with anybody in the country,” he said.
This weekend, he’ll sit in the stand at TCF Bank Stadium wearing his black and gold. He’ll be watching the special teams closely as family and friends surround him. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The Minnesota game has become the rivalry that I like to oversee,” he said.