Former Dickson County High School, University of West Alabama and now Bethel University quarterback Jacob Murphree has had a long-stinted journey in football.
His episodic trek could be nearing a conclusion as an athlete, but it will be on his terms with a few familiar faces beside him.
Murphree’s departure from Division II West Alabama allowed him to reunite with former Dickson County teammates Trace Pierce and Darian Burns at Bethel. The trio of players were all led by former Dickson County head coach Randy Murphree – Jacob’s father – and were responsible for providing some of the Cougars’ best football in nearly a decade.
A former Class 5A Mr. Football finalist, Murphree threw for 3,202 yards as a senior and accounted for 72 total touchdowns over his high school career. His junior year produced the program’s highest win total (5) in a season since 2012. That led to an athletic scholarship at West Alabama.
The quarterback redshirted after two games as a freshman and appeared in 15 total contests throughout his three seasons with the Tigers. Murphree threw for a career-high 330 yards and two touchdowns in an October 2019 loss against West Georgia, earning a nomination for Gulf South Conference player of the week.
Murphree’s success last season didn’t guarantee consistent playing time, however. He only started one game during his time at West Alabama. Coaching staff changes led Murphree to transfer, and conversations with Pierce and Burns lured him to join head coach Michael Jasper in his second season with the Wildcats.
“I got in touch with both of them a couple of different times,” Murphee said. “Just asked them what they thought about it and they both were high on Coach Jasper and things he’s done with the program. I just knew that having some guys I knew here would make it a little easier to make that decision.”
Pierce, in his fifth year of college football, is excited to be blocking for his former classmate once again. The redshirt senior’s protection up front in 2019 garnered a second team all-conference selection. Bethel’s line paved the way for 3,866 yards of offense during its 6-5 campaign last season.
“I don’t think we ever really talked about going to the same school,” Pierce said. “I know we all, of course, wanted to play at the next level and go somewhere, but I don’t think it ever occurred to us that we could all play at the same school and be on the same team with one another.”
Burns rounds out the bunch of former Cougar players on the Bethel roster and shares a close connection with Jacob and Randy Murphree in particular. Jacob was a junior when Burns first arrived at Dickson County, but the two still managed to create a tight bond on the gridiron.
While Burns is currently a sophomore linebacker for the Wildcats, he spent most of his high school career at tailback and quarterback. In fact, Burns became Murphree’s successor under center in 2017 before playing running back as a senior in 2018.
Pierce’s enrollment at Bethel also played a factor in Burns’ initial recruitment to the school. The addition of Murphree gives Burns yet another familiar face on the team.
“I’m thankful for these guys being here, just because I’m younger than them,” Burns said. “So, if I ever need anything, I can just go talk to them because they’ve been through most of it…They both know what it takes to be successful, so I can go talk to them if I have any questions or anything.”
The Dickson County roots even extend to the sidelines in McKenzie, where former Dickson County player and coach Cody McCallister serves as safeties coach and co-special teams coordinator. McCallister coached Burns and Pierce’s younger brother, Gage, in a similar role with the Cougars and was under the tutelage of then-defensive coordinator Randy Murphree as a player in 2009.
The Wildcats were scheduled to play the first game of their spring season on Feb. 12 but have since had each of their first two contests postponed due to COVID-19 and inclement weather concerns.
Burns, Murphree and Pierce will finally get to share the same field again at Thomas More College on Feb. 26. With an extra year of eligibility granted to all NAIA athletes, the trio may represent Dickson County at Bethel for a few seasons to come.
“These are guys that you kind of build your program around,” Jasper said. “They’re three young men you lean on to lead not only their position groups, but their sides of the ball and the special teams phase. These guys, I have the utmost confidence that they’re going to be ready to rock and roll next Friday, and I can’t wait to cut them loose.
“The reputation of Dickson County Cougar football in Middle Tennessee...I’m getting it in all three of these guys. Dickson County is definitely a place we’re going to always go and try to find talent.”