Cole Murphy just wanted to play football.
But when he decided to join his high school team, his parents gave him only one option.
“You can play, but you can only be kicker,” he said.
For Murphy, the decision to kick has been a good one. The true freshman at Syracuse has been almost flawless since taking over for Ryan Norton earlier in the season. He’s 12-14 on field goals, including a 50-yarder in back-to-back games.
But it hasn’t always been so smooth for Murphy. He was once a soccer goalkeeper whose gridiron experience was in flag football coming into high school. Once he put on the helmet, Murphy needed instruction. That’s when he met up with kicking guru, Chris Sailer. His instructional camp was only about half an hour away from Murphy’s hometown of Valencia, Ca.
“When a player wants to take his game to the next level, they generally reach out to us," Sailer said. "He started attending our camps. He’s a local guy here being in California. We told him that being out in Las Vegas at our national event would be important for him for the exposure so he did that and made our elite group of players and came with the highest quality of guys we have.”
Murphy came to Sailer with the natural talent to make it to the Division-I level – the size, leg strength and the athleticism. Sailer said that Murphy was “a bit raw”, but willing to listen.
“He took to our coaching and instruction very well,” Sailer said. “He progressed at a great rate and really, it was pretty simple for us to recommend him to college coaches because first of all, he’s a great kid. He’s a great student and his talent is undeniable.”
The kicking coach was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award in 1997 with UCLA. He played in the Arena Football League for five years and fosters some of the best kicking talent in the country.
His training has landed more than a thousand players in college football and boasts NFL alumni. There are 17 current players in the league who worked with Sailer. For Murphy, it’s a perfect networking tool.
“They lean upon one another,” Sailer said. “They help each other out, both with technical things and mental support – whether it be a good game or a bad game. Blair Walsh and Jeff Locke, who was a kicker and punter for the Minnesota Vikings, were part of the same class and they’ve been great friends since they were in high school.”
When it came time to Murphy select a college, Murphy noticed Syracuse’s interest in him was special. Other colleges would tell Murphy that they were looking at him and five more kickers. But with Syracuse, it was a “different feeling”.
“They didn’t kind of dance around the question or dance around what they wanted from me,” Murphy said. “They were set on me before anybody else and that really was different from any other college.”
And Murphy was hooked. The California native came to Syracuse as a preferred walk on. In fall camp, he battled Norton and Alex Hodgkinson. By week four, the newcomer won the job.
"Cole had a good week of kicking and deserved that opportunity,” head coach Scott Shafer said at the time.
Added Shafer, “Like all the players, we’ll continue to watch him every day. Competition is what makes players excel at the higher level.”
Murphy has taken control of Syracuse’s kicking game by completing 86 percent of field goals this season. He’s 6-6 on kicks less than 40 yards away since the Notre Dame loss. Although Syracuse’s red zone struggles have crippled the offense, it’s given Murphy that chance to play – that same chance he wanted back in high school.
"Being a freshman, you don’t really ever come in expecting to start,” Murphy said. “I didn’t start the season, but it’s all worked out.”