Maalik Murphy waited his turn to lead Texas, and now he’s ready to dance

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Nov. 2, 2023 12:21 p.m. ET

Before Maalik Murphy took his first snap ever as Texas’ starting quarterback, he danced.

He didn’t look too serious or stone-cold. If he was nervous, it didn’t show. With a massive opportunity in front of him — filling in for an injured Quinn Ewers — Murphy was just himself. This meant he was confident and busted a move (or two) in front of 100,000 fans before leading the Longhorns to a 35-6 win over BYU last Saturday.

Murphy completed 16 of 25 passes for 170 yards with two touchdowns in the victory. He made a few mistakes — there was an interception and a lost fumble in the red zone — but mostly, he proved to be a more-than-viable backup. 

With Ewers recovering from a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder and listed as week-to-week, it’s now Murphy’s responsibility to keep No. 7 Texas in the thick of the Big 12 and College Football Playoff races. He’ll make his second consecutive start on Saturday against No. 23 Kansas State (noon ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

“That’s just my personality,” Murphy told reporters after the game of his pre-snap looseness. “Going into it, the coaches told me, don’t change, be me. So that’s what I did. Go out there dancing, having fun and just enjoying my time out there.”

Before this season started, there were rumors that Murphy could transfer. Ewers had beaten him out for the starting job, and after Murphy had an impressive performance while showing off his cannon of an arm in the spring game, other programs noticed. 

But Murphy didn’t care. He wasn’t on the hunt for NIL deals. He wanted to play for Sarkisian — that’s why he committed to Texas in the first place. And he relishes the opportunity to battle with Ewers and hotshot freshman Arch Manning.

“He loves to compete,” Scott Altenberg, who coached Murphy for four years at Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., told FOX Sports. “If he’s not the best quarterback, then he wants to compete. That’s his mentality. He has a lot of confidence.”

Plus, Murphy has waited in the wings before, and it worked out fine.

RJ Young previews No. 23 Kansas State vs. No. 7 Texas

Back in high school, Murphy didn’t start until his junior year because Doug Brumfield, who now plays for UNLV, was two years older and already had the job. Just like in today’s transfer portal world in college football, Murphy could have gone elsewhere. But in the sixth grade, while attending Junipero Serra’s youth football camp, he told Altenberg that he wanted to win a state championship for his program one day. Which he ended up doing as a senior.

“People talk now about him leaving, but I’m like, he’s done this before,” said Altenberg, who’s been the head coach at Serra for 21 years. “He had the same situation. Instead of Quinn Ewers, it was Doug Brumfield. And yet he understood that, ‘I’m going to play. I don’t have to run and go somewhere else.’ There’s something to be learned from being a part of a good quarterback room.”

Murphy, a former four-star prospect who’s listed at 6-foot-5 and 238 pounds, committed to Texas before Ewers transferred in from Ohio State. Once they were both on campus, Murphy wasn’t at 100% because he broke his ankle in the fourth quarter of his high school state championship game. He missed his first spring in Austin, and by the time fall camp rolled around, had a setback and wasn’t ready to go.

Meanwhile, Manning committed to Texas. At that point in December 2022, Murphy was still recovering from his injury — he didn’t take a single snap last fall and missed the first five practices of this past spring — and was staring down the prospect of competing with not one, but two of the nation’s former No. 1 overall recruits.

He still didn’t want to leave.

“I’m gonna be candid on this, he didn’t stay because of NIL,” Steve Sarkisian said after the BYU game. The Texas coach had an exit meeting with Murphy after last season and says that NIL didn’t even come up in conversation.

“He stayed because he wanted to be part of this team,” Sarkisian continued. “He just wanted to make sure that he had an opportunity to compete. And that’s what makes him special. And I think that’s why our team really loves him so much is that he loves his teammates. He motivates Quinn when Quinn is in there. He’s a great teammate with Arch. That’s why that quarterback room is so good right now. Those guys have a great rapport with one another.” 

This story checks out with Murphy’s teammates, who describe him as the first guy in and the last guy out of the locker room. It registers with Altenberg, too. When Murphy finally got his chance to be the leader and take over the Padres, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With the team unable to practice and forced to meet via Zoom, Murphy still somehow made the team his own.

“The kids love him because he’s genuine,” Altenberg said. “He’s very much a team guy, he wants to win over anything. Instead of being the guy that just cares about stats or this or that, [winning] has always been his thing.”

Before he was thrown into the spotlight two weeks ago, Murphy was always the one on the sideline hyping up his teammates when they came off the field. He daps up guys on the bench and high-fives them after big plays.

“He’s one of the better locker room guys I’ve ever had,” said Altenberg, who has coached a lengthy list of NFL talent at Serra, including leaders like New York Giants cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and Houston Texans wide receiver Robert Woods.

“They would say it and the kids would follow,” Altenberg said.

Oftentimes quarterback competitions are perceived to be controversial. With Ewers firmly holding onto the job (when healthy) and fans clamoring for a glimpse of Manning, Murphy flies a bit under the radar despite his big arm talent.

Sarkisian has praised Murphy as “a natural passer.” This was put on display vs. BYU when Murphy hit Adonai Mitchell on third-and-8 for a 30-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and when he found Mitchell again for a 13-yard score in the fourth on a slant route.

“That was a fastball,” Sarkisian said of the second touchdown. “That thing was coming. So he definitely has the ability to change trajectories on the ball, to change velocity on the ball and still remain accurate.”

“He has a very quick, compact delivery that, in my day, I haven’t seen a lot,” Altenberg added. “It’s so quick and effortless. The ball jumps out of his hands.”

The funny thing about Murphy’s arm talent is that Altenberg’s favorite story from high school was when he couldn’t use it.

It was during his senior year when Murphy sprained his shoulder and couldn’t throw the ball more than 5 yards. The Padres had a massive league game against rival Chaminade, and Altenberg wasn’t going to play Murphy. But the QB had other plans and led his team to a huge win anyway.

“The day of the game, he says, ‘Coach, I’m playing,'” Altenberg said. “He just willed himself to do it. I wasn’t going to let him play, but he was like, ‘Coach, I can do it.’ So we were just creative. And he was doing some crazy fakes with his body and [Chaminade] couldn’t figure it out. They were like what’s going on here?

“The [win] was all him. He’s got a great arm, but this was 100% everything else. He basically had the ability to throw like a fourth grader in that game and was able to somehow will us to a victory.”

Murphy could be called on to do something similar down this final stretch of the season. There are four regular-season games left, including Saturday’s showdown against the Wildcats, and the Longhorns have goals of winning the Big 12, making the CFP and winning the national championship.

If Ewers can’t play, Altenberg believes Murphy can be the guy.

“In the state finals, fans were chanting at him and going crazy, and he’s just smiling and dancing around,” Altenberg said. “The moment is never going to be too big for him.”

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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