Trent Murphy and his girlfriend once had to walk 10 miles to find cell phone reception after his old Jeep broke down in the Arizona desert.
The Bills’ defensive end laughs about it now.
“We were very well-prepared for the situation,” Murphy said, “but she’s not from Arizona and she didn’t know – she thought mountain lions hunt in prides like on safari, like African lions, so when she asked me if there were mountain lions I was like, ‘Yeah, of course there are.’
“And I wasn’t worried about it because we were ready for whatever. So the whole time we were walking, she was freaking out and I didn’t realize she was freaking out, because she thought we were being surrounded by a pride of lions the whole time.”
Mountain lions, much like Murphy, prefer to hunt alone. And neither the prowling predators nor barren landscape were a match for the lifelong outdoorsman, a Scottsdale, Ariz., native who roped steer as a child. Murphy knew the temperature dropped precipitously at night and was prepared with extra clothes and the means to start a fire. He had packed food and plenty of water, the most important thing in the desert. He had flashlights and extra batteries, a first aid kit and a firearm.
He was ready for whatever.
It’s a mindset Murphy carries into his professional life. And after the Bills’ season was sidetracked in a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, who rushed for more than 200 yards against a proud Buffalo defense, Murphy and his teammates have been getting back to basics while preparing to face his former team. The Washington Redskins, who drafted Murphy out of Stanford with a second-round pick in 2014 only to let him leave in free agency before the 2018 season, visit the Bills on Sunday at New Era Field.
“We understand it’s going to be big for Trent,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said, “so we want to go out there and take it to these guys. We want to let them know that he’s an extraordinary player, we’re happy to have him and we want to show them what he has brought to this team and what’s he’s brought to our D-line room.”
Murphy said he’s treating this matchup as “really just the next opponent. It’s the next ‘1-0’ and I’m pretty professional about it that way.”
But Hughes, one of Murphy’s closest friends on the team, said there’s always extra motivation when facing your former team.
“Especially when they didn't value you the way they should have,” Hughes said. “You certainly bring an extra edge. And it’s not like we needed any more edge.”
Murphy knows he’ll be ready – he’s always ready – just like that day he broke down in the desert.
“I just always took on the belief that fortune favors the prepared,” Murphy said, “and I like to take that to heart. I know that if I’m going to go on an adventure, somewhere with my loved ones or by myself, I just like to be really prepared for any situation. That’s a big slippery slope when you’re thinking about what could go wrong.”
He said one of the coolest things he encountered at an extreme camping and hunting convention this off-season was a portable device that sterilizes water with ultraviolet light.
“You stir your drink for a minute and it kills most pathogens and stuff,” Murphy said.
“Urine is sterile, too,” offensive lineman Spencer Long chimed in.
“Or you can drink your own urine,” Murphy said. “The guy that cut his arm off did it, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”
'He's a ... killer'
In March 2018, Murphy drove overnight through a snowstorm from Columbus, Ohio – where he was lifting at the famed Westside Barbell – to Buffalo to sign a three-year, $22.5 million contract with the Bills.
He found the perfect place to live in Orchard Park, somewhere with plenty of space for his two dogs and sprawling home gym, a meat locker and land to hunt.
“I have an amazing spot with a family that leases out their barn that they turned into a condo for me,” Murphy said. “So I live on a working farm, so that’s amazing for me. I can hunt if I ever find time. I started elite archery, so I can bow hunt here and take a deer and donate it, or I can get it processed and use the meat for whatever. I enjoy that.”
Murphy picked up hunting as a hobby during his final year in Washington, while he was on injured reserve.
After recording a career-high nine sacks and three forced fumbles in 2016, he missed the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, an injury he suffered during the preseason. Murphy also faced a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, which he has attributed to a tainted supplement.
He was surprised by how long it took him to return to full health.
After the rehab following surgery and signing with the Bills, Murphy fought through groin, ankle and right knee injuries, posting a career-low 24 tackles and four sacks in 13 games last season.
“It’s a grind,” Murphy said. “I have a lot of respect for people who make it through that process, because it’s tough for sure.”
Murphy, despite his struggles to remain healthy and play to the best of his ability, was quick to embrace his new surroundings and the local outdoors scene in Western New York. He promoted the Venison Donation Coalition on camouflaged footwear during the “My Cause My Cleats” game.
“I donated a doe last year that I shot,” Murphy said. “This year I’ll probably do the same again. And I donate online, as well, and try to get people to help them out, because they have to take care of the fees for the processing places and they donate the meat to homeless shelters.
“I think it’s a great reminder that there are local resources that can be used to feed people that need to be fed, and a lot of times deer can overpopulate an area. They can run across highways if they run out of space and stuff, so controlling the population is healthy for them and it’s healthy for people, and it brings people together.”
Murphy also made an impression on his new teammates.
“The first thing that came to mind – he’s a (expletive) killer,” defensive end Shaq Lawson said. “He’s just got that look in his face like if you try him, he’ll kill you. He’s got a mean look to him. That’s why I was like, ‘He’s a little crazy.’
“But Trent is a good guy. I’ve learned a lot from Trent these two years training with him in AZ. Trent’s like my brother.”
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said Murphy once did him a favor last season by stopping by his place to take care of his four dogs, including a trained attack dog that was none too happy to see him.
“Anything you need, no matter what it is, if he’s able to do it he’s going to do it for you,” Phillips said.
Hughes recalled Murphy showing up to his house last off-season with a “whole cow.”
“He actually had the meat grinded up,” Hughes said. “He pulled out just a slab of beef, a slab of Wagyu and we threw the burgers on the grill. He did the whole thing. He was the chef. He even made jalapeno poppers. He made fresh guacamole with some black tortilla chips I’d never seen before. He was like a full-on chef. It was amazing. He’s an amazing guy.”
Murphy has started each game this season and said he feels like he’s back to full speed.
“I’m feeling great. I’m feeling super-good,” Murphy said. “Much happier, playing better. My knees don’t hurt. My body feels great. I couldn’t be happier, really.”
His teammates have noticed the difference.
“He’s definitely gotten a lot better and more productive, as far as his activity, being around the ball, flying around the ball, handling tight ends, because he’s more confident in his legs this year,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “He probably still wants to be more productive on third down and being around the ball, but I just like his toughness, how he approaches every single down playing hard. He’s one of those grinders, and one of those guys you want to go to battle with every single week.”
In seven games this season, Murphy has recorded his first career interception, a career-high three pass breakups and recovered a fumble, but he’s still looking for his first sack.
It could come against his former team, especially since Washington starting quarterback Case Keenum is sidelined by a concussion and rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins will make his first career start.
Haskins is the proverbial fresh meat. And Murphy knows it.
“A lot of times rookies are not as savvy to the league,” Murphy said. “They hold the ball a little longer, sometimes they sit deeper in the pocket and things like that. They’ll watch the rush. I definitely always enjoy playing rookies, just because they’re so young and green to the league.”
The Bills’ defense is looking for redemption, eager to rebound from last week’s performance against the Eagles. The linemen are salivating.
“It starts up front, man,” Lawson said. “How this team goes is how we play up front, so it starts up front. Every game starts up front.”
Alexander, who played for the Redskins from 2006 to ’12, said facing a rookie quarterback in his first start is “always intriguing.”
“Obviously, a rookie quarterback allows you to really get after him a little bit and take advantage of some of his lack of experience,” Alexander said. “But watching Haskins, he has the ability to make some big plays, especially with (wide receiver Terry) McLaurin, who’s pretty good. He’s another young guy who’s ascending, and those two guys played together (at Ohio State), so you never want them to be able to get anything going early.
“So you try to be as disruptive as possible, and it really starts on first and second down, stopping the run and Adrian Peterson, so then you put him in some uncomfortable spots on third down that he’s not used to managing or handling, especially coming into our building. And hopefully that gives us a leg up and we get after him a little bit.”
Hughes said he loves hunting quarterbacks with Murphy, based on the fellow defensive end’s knowledge of the game, relentless effort and their growing experience playing together.
“He’s fantastic. A great leader for the young guys. A great guy to have on the field, just because he knows the playbook in and out,” Hughes said. “He knows the offenses. He knows situational football, so you can ask him anything during the course of the game, and he’s able to fire back at you. There are times we’re on the field and I’m on the other side waving at him and we communicate just like that. Lock the eyes, he sees what I’m waving, and we understand the offense, how they’re going to attack us, and we counterattack that way.
“That kind of nonverbal communication that we have, that we’re able to play off of, makes the game so much easier.”
It’s the sort of relationship that only comes from experience and preparation. And Murphy takes great pride in being prepared.