55 and counting: NDSU duo holds record for games played
FARGO — The North Dakota State career football record for games played is a two-horse race, so to speak. Cole Jirik and Michael Murphy have yet to miss a game heading into the FCS second-round playoff game on Saturday.
It’s 55 and counting.
Murphy will be the first to tell you that he’s more impressed with Jirik’s longevity than his own. The defensive end has been weathering shoulder problems, but is still plugging away.
“Yeah, he’s been tied together with some strings,” Murphy said, “but he’s making it work. He plays a position that is more strenuous on the body and he’s stayed healthy enough to be able to play.”
Murphy is the team’s long snapper and as the story goes, if you haven’t heard about him, that’s a good thing. And so far through four years, he’s gone about his business with little fanfare.
“Specialists are a unique group, sometimes they operate in a vacuum,” said head coach Craig Bohl, who works with the long snapper, punter and field-goal kicker. “That skillset is very difficult but we have tremendous confidence in him.”
The career games status is a result of three FCS playoff runs. The Bison played 14 games in 2010 in reaching the quarterfinals.
The back-to-back national titles the last two years required 15 games. And throughout all those punts with Matt Voigtlander and Ben LeCompte and all of the extra points and field goals with Ryan Jastram and Adam Keller, Murphy can count on one hand the number of snaps that were a little off.
He’s only been a part of one blocked punt, two years ago at Western Illinois, and that was the result of a blocking breakdown.
“I’ve had a couple of snaps that were a little off, but Ben did a great job of getting there, catching it and getting the punt off,” Murphy said.
Linebacker Grant Olson was on pace for 55 games until injuring his knee late in the season. A few other seniors have played in at least 50 games.
Of the 55, Murphy said the most memorable is probably his first collegiate game at the University of Kansas.
“Just knowing that my first game was in front of 50,000 people,” he said.
Second place goes to the win over the University of Minnesota in 2011, mainly because of what it meant to the Twin Cities players on the Bison roster, he said. Certainly, the two national titles are up there, also.
So far, the Bison punt coverage team that starts with Murphy has been one of the best in the country. Opponents have only returned four punts for a total of three yards.
It ranks NDSU second in the FCS in punt return defense just slightly behind Brown of the Ivy League, which has given up 11 yards on seven returns.
Murphy credits the Bison offense for that statistic. If backed up near its own end zone, it has done a good job of getting at least near midfield giving LeCompte the opportunity to pin a team inside the 20-yard line.
“Ben does a great job of putting the ball in the right places,” Murphy said.
It’s one of the benefits of the Division I move – NDSU is able to divvy more scholarship dollars to special teams players. That wasn’t necessarily the case in Division II football.
“Now you’re recruiting specialists,” Bohl said. “Before you took a group of guys and asked them to raise their hand if they can punt or if they can snap.”
Murphy came to Fargo from Hollister, Calif., recruited to NDSU by former assistant Dan Fodrocy. Murphy had 297 career tackles as a linebacker, but put that aside for the Bison long snapper job that he earned as a true freshman.
Fifty-five games later, he’s still at it.
“I’ve kind of made this place my home,” Murphy said. “I’m thankful these great people here let me come in and make this place my home.”
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.
Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia