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In the right place at the right time. Finally.

Bucs receiver Frank Murphy is far removed from the eight months he spent in jail at age 16.

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001


TAMPA -- He remembers looking at his mother's expression through the plexiglass in the visitors room of the Duval County Jail in Jacksonville.

He could see the disappointment in Velma Murphy's eyes.

"Don't worry baby, we'll get through this," he remembered her saying. "Have faith in God. He'll get us through this."

At the time, Bucs receiver Frank Murphy was 16 years old. His life experiences made him much older.

"I was out there, doing all the wrong things," said Murphy, whose decision to go out with friends one night in the summer of 1993 led to arrests on multiple charges. "I was raised in a beautiful home, two great parents and a loving family, but I was doing the wrong things. Getting into stuff. Rolling with the wrong crowd."

He was jailed on charges ranging from robbery with a firearm to aggravated battery to grand larceny and kidnapping. His life was changed forever.

"In some ways, that's what has made me a better man," Murphy said of the details of his life, of which few teammates are aware. "Being around the people that I was around in there and knowing that that wasn't the kind of lifestyle that I wanted, it was a learning experience. I don't want to go back down that road."

When the Bucs open minicamp today, Murphy's march to redemption will take another step.

The 6-foot, 210-pound former running back, who was promoted to the active roster late in November as a reward for what coaches said was a noticeable development, is being given an opportunity to prove he belongs in the NFL full time.

In 2000, he played in one game, against the Cowboys at Raymond James Stadium, and had two kickoff returns for 24 yards. But this off-season, while speculation mounted that the Bucs were interested in drafting a receiver, Murphy's name kept popping up. On draft day, the Bucs opted not to select a receiver and club officials indicated that Murphy, once cut by the Bears, had a lot to do with it.

"We thought that he would have a chance to develop and he did some very good things on our (practice) squads last year and we think he has a chance to be a very good receiver," coach Tony Dungy said.

* * *

Murphy had brushes with the law as a juvenile but his real problems began in July of 1993 when a night of hell-raising with friends sent his world spinning out of control.

Velma said Frank had come home late from his part-time job at a nearby gas station and, although tired, went out with his friends.

"He was tired and it was a time of weakness for him," Velma said. "They came and took him. They trapped him."

There was a carjacking. Murphy said he did not have a criminal mind, but was guilty of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people.

Though just 16, Murphy ultimately was charged as an adult on all charges stemming from the arrest. With his family unable to make bail, Murphy sat in the county jail's adult population for about eight months. There, among miscreants Murphy cares not to describe, the seeds of determination began taking root.

"We all make mistakes, some big, some little, some you get caught, some you don't get caught," he said. "I got caught. There's nothing I can do about it but learn, ask for forgiveness and take it in a positive way. Look, if I took it in a negative way, I wouldn't be here where I'm at."

With the help of the community, the church and Murphy's godparents, Connie and Mack Brown, the Murphy family hired a lawyer to speed the case along. Meanwhile, Murphy remained in jail. His attorney, Gary Baker, did not return phone calls.

"To be honest, I wasn't really scared," Murphy said. "I was nervous, but not scared. It was a new predicament, a new challenge from God. I was always ready. I thrive off those challenges."

Murphy maintained his innocence and was found not guilty by a jury on the first set of charges. He pleaded guilty to burglary and was sentenced to six months. He was credited for time served, paid a fine of $253 and was placed on three years' probation. All other charges were dropped.

"I was rejoicing that day," Velma Murphy said. "I knew they were going to take the chains off of my baby. We walked down the steps together. I told him don't look back up the stairs. Like Lot's wife in the Bible, I warned him not to look back."

* * *

Velma and Frank Murphy Sr., took their five children to Callahan, about 10 miles outside Jacksonville. Murphy went back to school and refocused his energies on football. As a senior running back at West Nassau High, Murphy amassed 1,200 yards and 20 touchdowns. He signed with South Carolina but didn't qualify academically and landed at Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Miss., then transferred to Garden City Community College in Kansas.

Murphy said he remembered when he first arrived at Garden City, he read a newspaper article that questioned if he had then ability and maturity to replace the school's more famous running back, Corey Dillon.

"I brought it home, cut it out, and stuck it on the wall just inside the door," Murphy said. "It said: "Frank Murphy, we don't know if he can do it.' And every time I walked out that door, every day, I slapped it."

He also was slapping around tacklers. Blossoming as a runner, Murphy produced his best season. He rushed for 1,370 yards and 26 touchdowns and was named the National Junior College Player of the Year, the Heisman Trophy for junior college football.

The big schools came calling. Tennessee, Florida and Nebraska, he said. But Murphy felt staying in Kansas and, more importantly, away from Florida was in his best interest. He enrolled at Kansas State and finished his career there with 798 yards on 153 carries (5.3 average) and 11 TDs. He had 15 kickoff returns for a 27.3-yard average.

The only glitch was a four-game suspension for taking money from a booster.

"It was a great experience for me," said Murphy, who was picked up for violating that probation on Jan. 1, 1997 and spent six days in jail. "It taught me how to work hard and how to be patient."

The Bucs began eyeing Murphy. They noticed his 4.3-second 40-yard dash and his muscular frame. They saw him catch the ball out of the backfield, were convinced he could become a receiver and planned on taking a chance on him late in the 2000 draft.

The Bears beat them to it and grabbed Murphy in the sixth round (170th overall). Murphy, though, would not enjoy his arrival in the NFL.

A day before the draft, while waiting on cousin and best friend Royce Jackson to pick him up at home in Jacksonville, Murphy got news that there had been an accident. Jackson, who was a source of inspiration while Murphy matured in Kansas, fell asleep at the wheel of his car and died in the crash.

"I didn't even care about the draft," Murphy said, pausing to collect himself. "I didn't care where I went or what they wanted me to do. I was so caught up in him. It dawned on me that, "Dang, my cousin isn't here to see me make the NFL.' We used to talk about it, dream about it all the time. He would call me everyday before a game and say "Don't go out there and mess up.' ... I've been through it all."

Velma said Jackson's death had a devastating effect on her son.

"They were so close," she said. "It took a toll on him. I don't think he's ever going to another funeral again."

* * *

The Bears released Murphy at the end of training camp and the Bucs called, "immediately" he said.

Dungy said, the plan was to let Murphy spend a year on the practice squad while converting to a receiver/kick returner. He jumped ahead of the curve.

"There's a drive and determination, no matter what the obstacles are, that (Frank) still has some things in mind that he wants to do," Dungy said. "When you think of a position switch, that's precisely what we want to hear because there are going to be days when there are obstacles. We don't think he's ever the type of guy who's going to throw in the towel."

Dungy and Murphy talked in depth about his past and he convinced the coach that his age and poor choice of friends were the driving force of his problems. Dungy believed him.

"I said, "What did you learn from this? He said. "No. 1, you have to have principles. And No. 2, it's important where you are and who you're with," Dungy said. "He said, "All I need is a chance to show I'm a good person.' I believe in him. I do. Very much so."

-- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Bucs minicamp

WHEN: Today-Sunday.

WHERE: One Buc Place, Tampa.

WHO: The camp is mandatory and will feature the entire roster, including recent draft picks, free-agent acquisitions and college free agents.

MISC.: The team will work out twice today and Saturday and once Sunday. Workouts are not open to the public.

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