The LSU football world will not find senior running back Richard Murphy in the No. 26 jersey he has donned since his freshman year in 2006.
Instead, he will sport No. 18, a designation for the LSU player who embodies the greatest leadership qualities of the team. Since 2003, the number has been worn by quarterback Matt Mauck, running back Jacob Hester and tight end Richard Dickson.
"That tells you who Murphy is," said LSU coach Les Miles. "Off the field he is a great young man, and on the field they expect him to play with great talent and ability and make them proud of that number."
Murphy certainly has a lot to show his teammates after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the 2009 season against Vanderbilt.
Murphy returned to the field in spring practice, and he said he is healthy and mentally stronger with the 2010 season on the horizon.
"Before the injury, I never noticed that it only takes one play," Murphy said. "I run hard because you never know when you're going to fall. And I gained more weight so I can take those contact hits in the [Southeastern Conference]."
Murphy's selfless nature was never hidden amid his passion for football, another testament to the traits that earned him the No. 18 jersey.
Murphy rushed for an eye-popping 7,059 yards at Rayville High School— fifth in state history— and coach Bo Barton said Murphy had a chance to break the all-time state rushing record.
But that wasn't who Murphy was.
"He didn't want to stay in the games because he wanted the younger kids to get more experience," Barton said. "A lot of games we pulled him out in the first half. He always said, ‘No, coach, I'm not about [breaking the record]. If I do it and it's a tight game, great, but I don't want to do it in a game just to try and break the record.'"
Murphy has played behind Justin Vincent, Alley Broussard, Hester, Charles Scott and Keiland Williams throughout his LSU career, but now he is the most veteran running back remaining.
Junior Stevan Ridley said Murphy has earned the respect of everyone by showing tremendous courage in the wake of horrific setbacks in his life. Murphy also tore his ACL as a junior in high school in the first round of the state playoffs, and both his parents died before he began at LSU.
"We've been on the back seat together since we've been here the last two or three years," Ridley said. "Part of coming to LSU is you're going to be competing against the best of the best and sometimes you have to wait for your time. I don't think it matters who's starting. We're looking to be a two-headed monster out there."
Murphy has accumulated 442 yards rushing and two touchdowns in 29 games since 2007, including every game as a sophomore and junior.
LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton anticipates him to be right back in the mix in the backfield this season.
"He can catch, run the ball, he has understanding and has intelligence," Crowton said. "I really like that experience in that area. I don't know whether he is going to be a starter or backup, but he's going to help us, there's no question."
Murphy said his biggest strengths are his hands on the swing pass, and he said he has improved in running between the tackles by emulating the LSU runners who came before him.
Barton called Murphy a role model for the town of Rayville, and he said the Rayville High School football team "flocks to Richard" when he comes to visit.
Barton said all Murphy needs is the opportunity to carry the running game and he'll surge ahead like he has blazed through hardships his whole life.
"I really believe in my heart that if he touches the ball 16 or 17 times a game, everybody will go, ‘Wow, why hasn't this been happening for four years?'" Barton said. "The whole town of Rayville goes ‘wow' every time he touches the ball."
Contact Rachel Whittaker at firstname.lastname@example.org