Time and time again, Utah tight end Jake Murphy bailed out the Utes with one big play or another, earning a reputation for being the “go-to guy.”
Now, the go-to guy is gone.
Murphy, a 6-foot-4, 252-pound junior, announced Friday he will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.
Murphy played in eight games for the Utes in 2013, catching 25 passes for 417 yards and five touchdowns.
Murphy broke his wrist against UCLA on Oct. 3 and missed four games as a consequence. There was some thought that Murphy’s injury could hurt his draft chances because he doesn’t have as much film as he would if he had played an entire year, but Murphy said he feels like he can prove himself on the field.
The injury also served as a reminder that anything can happen, he said.
“I want to provide for my family,” he said. “I have a wife and a 9-month-old daughter, and that changes a lot of perspective on things.”
Murphy said he spoke with recently hired offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. The meeting was positive, with Christensen telling Murphy he plans to use a lot of two-tight end sets, but the discussion wasn’t enough to change Murphy’s decision.
“I think they are going to do some exciting things up there, but I feel ready to take this step,” he said.
Murphy said Utah’s back-to-back 5-7 seasons made his decision harder, not easier.
“I wish we could have gone to a bowl game,” he said. “That is one thing we really wanted to be able to do this year.”
Murphy’s departure doesn’t leave the Utes’ cupboard empty at tight end. Westlee Tonga, a senior who suffered a season-ending knee injury in his fourth game of the season, returns, as does freshman Siale Fakailoatonga.
Fakailoatonga played in all but two games and developed well throughout the season, according to coach Kyle Whittingham.
The Utes also have senior Greg Reese on the roster and are still in the running for Bingham High School tight end Dalton Schultz, who is regarded as one of the top tight ends in the country. Notre Dame and Stanford are among his final choices.
Murphy said he consulted with Whittingham as well as his father, former Major League Baseball star Dale Murphy.
“He felt it was the right thing for me to do,” Jake Murphy said of his father. “I know I have to prove myself, but doing what I did, playing basically one-handed, hopefully that will work in my favor.”
Whittingham said in a statement the Utes would miss Murphy’s talent and leadership.
“We respect the thought process he and his family put into this decision and wish him the best in his pursuit of an NFL career,” he said.
The 24-year-old Murphy, an honorable mention All-Pac-12 as a sophomore, said he plans to prepare for the NFL Draft in Los Angeles.
Murphy said he is one semester short of earning a degree in communications.
“That is something I want, but it might have to be put on hold for now,” he said.
Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the draft.