A return to football after missing the 2013 season turned out great for both Eli Murphree and the Lafayette Commodores this fall.<>
The senior inside linebacker ended up leading the Commodores with 136 tackles, one of the top numbers in the state, regardless of classification.
His effort on the field not only made the Commodores very formidable on defense, but it earned Murphree the inaugural Lafayette “Player of the Year” honor from the Oxford Citizen.
“Him coming back was definitely big for our defense. He just has a nose for the football,” LHS coach Eric Robertson said. “That’s how you get that many tackles. Having people like Vincent Lewis in front of him helps out, but he has a nose for the football. Some people just have that knack for making plays. He’s a good tackler who doesn’t miss many tackles. I’m really glad that he did decide to come back and play football. It was really good for our football team and good for him, too.”
Murphree and is brother John didn’t play as juniors due to concussions suffered as sophomores. Robertson felt like the time off was a good thing, which aided him on the field. Still, his success was immediate, starting with a 20-tackle performance in the season opener against Tupelo.
“We were wondering how long it might take for him to come back around, but if you didn’t know any better, you would have never known he missed a year,” Robertson said. “After that first week, there was just no question. Things just come so natural and easy. He looked faster.
He may not have been as strong as he’s been or if he was able to get into the weight room that extra year. But he looked very fast getting into coverage.”
His ability to make plays remained consistent, and Robertson felt there were reasons for that beyond Murphree just being a great athlete.
“Part of it is he’s a competitor. He competes very hard,” Robertson said. “I think he loves playing football. He grew up a son of a coach. His granddaddy was a coach. He’s been around it his whole life. It’s important to him.”
And maybe the biggest reason Murphree had so much success resides in his new position as the stack linebacker, which means he is almost always inside the box, close enough to make all types of tackles on running backs and quarterbacks.
“He’s in there behind our defensive end, so we’re able to keep him free most of the time,” Robertson said. “He ranks up there with some of the best stack backers we’ve had here. You can put him in that mix just because of the amount of tackles he makes.”
Murphree felt like he had a good season. His goal coming in was to just help the team anyway he could.
“I didn’t know if that meant on special teams or what because I didn’t know how much playing time I would get,” he said. “I think I was able to help out as much as I could.”
The only real goal Murphree had was to garner more than 80 tackles he made as a sophomore.
“I knew I wanted to have more than that. I pride myself on hustling every play and I noticed on film that most of my tackles came from me going across the field. If I stop and don’t keep going, I don’t make that play. I know that I could read defenses a lot better than I did my sophomore year. It was almost like I didn’t have to think about it, that it just came natural compared to my sophomore season when I had to think about it a little more.”
Murphree added that he did miss the game, but he couldn’t really pinpoint what made the biggest difference in his success other than the position change.
“My sophomore year, I played the Commodore or outside linebacker spot and it just didn’t feel natural out there,” Murphree said. “The stack linebacker felt completely natural to me, just something I could play best at. It just all came together for me my senior year. It was one of the best, if not the best, decisions I ever made to come back. I missed it and I’m just so glad I came back. I had a great time playing.”
Lafayette finished the season 8-5, which included a 1-1 mark in the MHSAA Class 4A playoffs. Murphree said he was pleased with winning the Region 2-4A title, but he lamented some of the close losses.
“Our schedule could have been a lot better than it was,” Murphree said. “We lost some close games. I felt like we had a really good year but had a little bit of an off night (against Cleveland). I felt like if we could have won that game, we could have had a chance at Noxubee County and been right there at Starkville.”