Cheeseheads power Hoosiers’ rise

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana safety Mark Murphy can usually be spotted walking around campus on fall Sunday mornings wearing a green-and-gold No. 37 jersey.

It’s more than a tribute to his dad’s legacy. Rooting for the Packers is a longtime passion for the sophomore from Ohio.

“It’s how I grew up,” he said Tuesday with a smile.

Murphy isn’t the only big Green Bay fan in town or on this team. Quarterback Cameron Coffman considers himself a Cheesehead, too, and has the foam head gear to prove it.

In Bloomington, the two are best known for the roles they’ve played for the vastly improved Hoosiers (4-5 overall, 2-3 Big Ten), who are about to play their biggest game in five years Saturday against Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2). The winner becomes the instant favorite to represent the Leaders Division in next month’s Big Ten title game.

Badgers fans might not recognize the two names right away, but they almost certainly will remember the two fathers – three-time Pro Bowl tight end Paul Coffman and Mark Murphy, ex-Packers safety. The dads were teammates for six years in Green Bay during some solid season in the 1980s.

But their fascination for all things Wisconsin ends at the northern edge of the Fox River.

“Even though all my sisters were born in Wisconsin, I was born in Ohio,” the younger Murphy said. “My only real connection is that I love the Packers.”

That’s good enough for Packers fans, even for the millions who will be watching to see if the Badgers can position themselves to make a run at defending last season’s Big Ten championship.

But for Coffman and Murphy, this season has been about much more than sharing the Green Bay a connection. The two never met until Coffman decided to make a recruiting visit to Bloomington after playing last season at Arizona Western Community College. They hit it off right away.

“He was the first person I met on my visit here with my dad,” said Coffman, who grew up in Peculiar, Mo. “And we lived together during the summer.”

Coffman’s father even spoke to the Hoosiers during a team chapel session.

The two football prodigies have lived up to their reputations, too.

Murphy started six games at safety and three at linebacker as a freshman, finishing third on the team with 76 tackles. This season, Murphy is No. 4 in tackles (46), has one sack, two pass breakups and at 6-foot-2, 208 pounds, has emerged as the Hoosiers’ biggest hitter in the secondary.

Co-defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler expected nothing less from him.

“He’s one of those physical, hard-nosed guys, just like his dad,” Ekeler said.

Coffman wasted no time in making his mark, either.

When starting quarterback Tre Roberson went down with a broken lower left leg in the second game of the season, coach Kevin Wilson sent in Coffman to rally the troops.

The 6-foot-2, 191-pound junior college transfer led the Hoosiers to a 45-6 victory at Massachusetts and despite sharing time with freshman Nate Sudfeld he has still completed 158 of 249 throws for 1,699 yards with 10 touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer efficiency mark of 130.8.

Not bad for a guy who had never taken a snap in a Football Bowl Subdivision game until two months ago.

But then again, he certainly comes with a strong pedigree – and not just from his father. His older brother, Chase, was a standout tight end at Missouri and played in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals. Another brother, Carson, was a quarterback at Kansas State.

So naturally, coach Kevin Wilson figured he had a hidden gem in his sophomore quarterback, too.

“When you’re recruiting a kid whose dad was a coach or a player, you think they have to have a good structure about them,” Wilson said. “I don’t know if that makes them a better recruit, but it sure doesn’t hurt.”

Neither Murphy nor Coffman have heard anything from family members or friends regarding the allegiances for Saturday’s game.

But with two prominent starters out to prove they can play big-time football, the toughest part for Wisconsin may be facing the two guys who still embrace their family ties with the Packers.

“I didn’t get to watch him, but I watched a lot of film,” Murphy said. “I actually knew the 1980s Packers better than I knew the 1990s Packers. I love the Packers.”

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