Market trends and tech innovations weren’t the heftiest matters on the real estate agents’ minds whenever Justin Murphy lumbered into their sales meetings.
The next big thing in Texas real estate stood 6 feet 6 and weighed about 280 pounds. Fortunately, he quickly put everyone at ease with his agreeable demeanor and ready smile.
“He’s a big ol’ teddy bear,” said Nancy Rawls, sales manager in the Re/max office in Lubbock, Texas. “He’s huge but he’s got the kindest heart.”
A handful of UCLA defensive linemen and linebackers would strongly disagree.
Murphy regularly flattened his new teammates during training camp after coming out of a medical retirement triggered by two injuries to the same knee when he played for Texas Tech. The graduate transfer offensive lineman arrived in Westwood this summer after a short stopover as a licensed agent in residential property.
Fortification was necessary along the Bruins’ offensive line after the team lost left tackle Kolton Miller, left guard Najee Toran and center Scott Quessenberry to the NFL. Murphy, who now weighs about 291 pounds after packing back on some of the 40 pounds he lost during his 1½-year retirement, has vacillated between right guard and right tackle.
He’s proved equally vicious no matter where he’s slotted.
“He’s just a beast on the field,” left guard Michael Alves said. “He’s trying to be nice to our guys, not jump on them after he knocks them down, but you can tell that he’s ready to play.”
After the second injury to his knee, in November 2016, Murphy thought he had no choice but to quit. Doctors advised him that if he didn’t intend to make a career out of football he should give it up because he essentially had no meniscus left in his knee.
“I thought I was done with football,” said Murphy, who announced his retirement and assessed his options. He could drill oil in West Texas, open a gym or put his outgoing personality to use as a Realtor.
Real estate won out but came with a cost. Murphy would have to trade in his jacked-up truck with oversized wheels for something more professional.
“He realized he needed to get a more conservative truck, something that people could climb into without having to get a step stool,” said Jim Murphy, Justin’s father.
Murphy was a natural at selling houses, including one for $200,000 that would have gone for several times that amount in California. He continued to work out, slimming down in an effort to reduce the pounding his knee took with every step.
The realization that he was moving without discomfort sparked another thought: Maybe he could play football again. His hunger for the game was strengthened when he watched the NFL combine and realized he had beaten some of the players who were considered prime professional prospects.
Now all he had to do was prove it once more.
Murphy spoke with UCLA running backs coach DeShaun Foster, who had held the same position at Texas Tech during Murphy’s final season with the team. The lure of Southern California was already strong, considering Murphy’s grandmother lives in Orange and his father had been a star right tackle at Orange High and Santa Ana College before going on to play at Rice.
Murphy figured the Bruins would be a good stylistic fit because he had played in a similar fast-paced offense as a Red Raider. He joined the team for fall camp after doctors cleared his return. He also enrolled in the graduate School of Education, where he hopes to develop leadership skills to complement an undergraduate degree in business management and business marketing.
His teammates said he’s added more than another big body and a hearty Texas drawl that inspires cackles, particularly when Murphy claims it doesn’t exist.
“He’s been awesome,” right tackle Jake Burton said. “He definitely adds a nastiness component that’s much needed.”
Those words come as no surprise to the father who watched Murphy play the second half of a peewee football game with a broken arm and delight in the misfortune of a wrestling opponent.
“He pinned this kid and held him down so hard the kid finally gave up and went over to the side and threw up,” Jim Murphy recalled. “Justin was so excited that he had beaten that kid so badly.”
Justin said his toughness is largely the result of maniacal effort that tends to put defensive linemen on their backs.
“Finishing is going to the whistle,” Murphy said, “and if you end up taking your guy to the ground, you won.”
Murphy’s specialty is run blocking, something the Bruins need significant help with after back-to-back seasons in which their ground game could have more easily been measured in inches than yards. He could have as many as two years of eligibility left if he applies for a medical hardship after injuries limited him to only two seasons at Texas Tech.
Of course, that’s assuming he isn’t first lured by the NFL—or the hefty commissions on California real estate.