Initially, Nick Murphy figured he would hop back on his feet and quickly walk off what he thought was a mild left ankle twist or turn. That was not the case.
The crack Murphy felt and heard in the joint while getting rolled while making a late fourth-quarter tackle against the Westfield Bulldogs in the eighth high-school football game of the regular season prevented the Madison Warhawks’ starting junior linebacker from doing any such thing. Murphy, a key defensive signal caller, was able to stand, but couldn’t put any weight on the leg. So he hopped off the field.
“It was a third-down running play, and when I made the tackle and rolled, I heard a crack, but it didn’t hurt right away so I thought it was OK, and I would be able to get up and walk,” Murphy said.
The 6-foot-1, 197-pound Murphy eventually learned he suffered a disappointing and a serious season-ending injury – a broken fibula and two torn ligaments in the ankle. He missed the Warhawks’ final two regular-season contests and the 6D North Region champions’ five region and state-playoff games.
Madison finished second in the state tournament and with an 11-4 record.
The injury required surgery, followed by a long recovery period when Murphy was not supposed to put any weight on the leg. So he was fitted with a brace, then a cast, and he is now wearing a boot, as the physical-therapy part of his recovery begins.
Plus, Murphy was on crutches for weeks. He used them along the sideline while attending the rest of Madison’s games. During those contests, he helped to coach and point out things to his less-experienced replacements.
As a signal caller, Murphy was a key part of Madison’s defense. He earned that starting position this season after being a backup and special teams player on Madison’s region-champion and state-runner-up 2021 team. He was enjoying one of his best games with a combined five tackles when the injury occurred. Murphy had multiple tackles for losses in those eight games.
“I had never had a major injury before. So at first it was like it really didn’t happen,” Murphy said. “As time progressed, not playing and practicing mentally became really harder and more disappointing. Last season was so much fun, so I wanted to keep playing and be a part of things.”
Murphy continued to attend practices, participate in film sessions and lift weights with his teammates. But he had to adjust to the emotion of not playing. When a team photo was taken after the Warhawks clinched the Concorde District championship, Murphy hesitated whether he should be in the photo.
“To be honest, the end of the season was bittersweet for me. All you want to do is be out there playing, instead of feeling useless like I did sometimes and not a part of it,” Murphy said.
In addition to missing Madison’s final seven football games, Murphy also will not participate in the current winter wrestling season for the Warhawks. He is the defending 190-pound region champion.
“That’s going to be really hard, too, not wrestling,” Murphy said.
At one point, Murphy considered playing for the Madison lacrosse team during the spring, but that probably won’t happen now. Going forward, his main goal is to get totally healthy for the 2023 football season, then eventually play the sport at some level in college. Murphy has an interest in playing at the U.S. Naval Academy.
“At least I have another year left of high-school football,” he said.