Offensive lineman Matt Murphy knew he might play immediately at UNLV.
But start nine football games and become one of the Rebels’ top linemen? That was another matter.
That’s what Murphy did, though, and Tuesday he was selected to the Freshman All-America Team by the Football Writers Association of America.
“I was really surprised,” Murphy said. “I’m pretty stoked. I texted my mom and my dad.”
Rebels coach Mike Sanford, who is in Hawaii as a coach for Saturday’s Hula Bowl, said Murphy earned the award.
“I am very excited about Matt Murphy being named a freshman All-American,” Sanford said. “I think he’s very deserving of it. I think he laid a tremendous foundation for our football program and our offensive line.
“We’re very excited as he’s one of the pieces we’re building this football program on.”
Murphy, out of El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif., entered the season as a backup but played in all 12 games and quickly took over at left tackle, where he started the final nine games.
It’s a crucial position because perhaps Murphy’s main responsibility was to protect the quarterback’s blindside. He did that well, allowing just three sacks while grading out at almost 80 percent.
Murphy, who averaged 76 plays and three knockdowns a game after becoming a starter, also helped tailback Frank Summers rush for 928 yards, UNLV’s highest individual total in three years.
“I was definitely surprised I started nine games,” Murphy said. “(Coaches) told me I could come in and play. I worked hard, and because of my work, I got to play. Then I started and just kept going.”
He said his confidence grew as the season progressed.
“The first week I was nervous because the guys were bigger than what I was used to,” said Murphy, a 6-foot-3-inch, 265-pounder. “I started trusting what the coaches told me to do. Then I started to believe I could do it.”
One other Mountain West Conference player — Brigham Young tailback Harvey Unga — made the team. Unga, who rushed for 1,227 yards and 13 touchdowns, also was the conference Freshman of the Year.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or (702) 387-2914.