Two players who have stood out in football drills at Fort Gibson this summer arrived from different directions this past season.
For Toby West, it’s been about springing into a key role from the bench. For Tim Murphy, at least on one side of the ball, it’s about building on what was.
West saw his playing time curtailed around midseason, much to his chagrin.
“I went home after that and was pretty hard on myself,” he said. “I didn’t feel good about what happened, but I decided to put more effort into it.”
Tigers coach Greg Whiteley sees it now in West, coming off a year where he had two interceptions.
“He hasn’t missed a day of Summer Pride or Fast Tiger,” he said of the summer drill sessions. “He picks up kids, he brings them, he takes them home. He has a great attitude. It’s his whole persona. The way he carries himself, the way he leads with the kids, he gets along with them, he’s a funny guy and bottom line, he’s worked his tail off.”
He’ll work at one safety spot this year, projected to start along with Jaxon Perdue. He also began to emerge as a primary ball carrier in the spring game and has excelled in 7 on 7 as a slot receiver.
He’s not prototypical of either position height-wise, standing at 5-6 and weighing 155 pounds. No worries, he said.
“I believe in myself and my abilities,” he said. “I think I can cover in anyone in front of me and I can jump pretty good for a small guy. I haven’t had too much hard tall competition yet but I’m confident with my footwork to stick with anyone.
“On offense, I know I can get it when I get to the edge, but I love the contact, so I actually like going up the middle.”
Wrestling participation boosts that confidence. Third at state last year at 132 pounds, West employs the physical characteristics of the mat on the turf.
“Shooting and upper body work really helps with tackling,” he said. “Those double-legs in wrestling help with a guy who is bigger to go low. If a guy is my size I try to go low but it’s also about getting my arms around him.”
Murphy is an incumbent at middle linebacker. He was second in tackles last year with 92, most among those returning as well.
“Some of us work with a college friend of coach (Grayland) Dunams on our own time on speed and agility and situational stuff, like what to read when something happens and how to counter something we don’t know,” he said.
It’s the mental game that’s drawn more attention this off-season from Murphy.
“Last year I got a lot of missed calls when the guards would fake pull and bring me out of the play. It was mostly that I was overly focused on the guards and not the whole play,” he said. “I’m supposed to be looking at the guards, but I’ve got to be more attentive to everything.”
West and Murphy have not only worked together in practice and on their own, they’ve worked together for Tim’s dad, Tim Sr., on construction cleanup around a house he’s having built.
“You might say it helps us with the heat,” West said.
Murphy says they all need to get used to knowing how to handle adversity. The Tigers started 6-0 last year but unraveled as the intensity of the schedule increased. They lost five straight to finish 6-5.
“We need to learn as soon as something doesn’t go your way, you need to not drop your heads,” Murphy said.
Whiteley is confident in Murphy’s leadership and experience.
“We know what he can do on the defensive side,” he said. “We’re going to work him at tailback some as we will Toby. There might be a few others come along. We’ve got several options.”