Pitt defensive end Bryan Murphy always knew he loved football, he just never appreciated it as much as he does now and will for the rest of his career.
It is funny how a year on the sideline has that affect on some guys.
"Last year gave me a lot of time to recover and a lot of time to think and mature," said Murphy, who sat out the 2011 season because he was academically ineligible. "I was just craving to get back on the field so it feels really good to get back out there. I am always a football player and always will be a football player.
"I just focused on getting what I need to get done [when he was off] and I got it all done and didn't wait for it to happen. It was also a chance for me to heal up all my old injuries. So it was good."
Murphy used the time off to heal some injuries that he had from his freshman season in 2010 when he played in six games and lettered. Murphy missed the first six games of that season with a fractured foot and also had some other nagging injuries to clear up, but he entered this spring completely healthy and ready to go.
Although Murphy, who consistently has lined up with the first-team defense in spring drills, is back on the football field, the best part of the story has nothing to do with football.
"I made scholar-athlete last semester, so I'm back on track," Murphy said with a smile.
A Pitt scholar-athlete award goes to any athlete who maintains a 3.0 grade point average or above for a given semester, and the fact that Murphy was on that list is a testament that he has learned his lesson and learned the value of the education football is providing for him.
That's a great first step for Murphy, a redshirt sophomore, but he wants to get things right on the field as well. He desires to become one of the top defensive ends in the Big East Conference this season.
If that is going to happen, however, Murphy is going to have to work even harder than he has according to his position coach Inoke Breckterfield, who would like to see more consistency from Murphy.
"He's been dinged up a little bit so he is battling through but he can get better, as can everyone else," Breckterfield said. "I want to see more fire out of the guy and I think he needs to play with more passion, but it is an open position so I'd like to see more out of him. I think he is a better player than he has shown but he needs to continue to work and work and work.
"I want him to be more consistent and I am hard on him because I know he can be a good one. I just want him to know he can be a better player than he is."
Murphy is currently the leader at his defensive end spot but as Breckterfield pointed out the position is open and he is locked in a battle with Devin Cook and LaQuentin Smith.
That means Breckterfield has the luxury of pushing them all hard and hoping that by the time the season comes around he will Murphy playing at a high level as well as some quality depth.
Murphy said he likes the way Breckterfield has handled the defensive line because his brand of coaching keeps the group motivated and striving for excellence.
"I love that kind of coaching," Murphy said of Breckterfield. "I grew up with that style of coaching. My high school coaches were really tough on me, so I love the way he coaches and I love the way that coach [Dave] Huxtable coaches -- they are in your face and tell you how it is and if you don't perform they won't play you and that's how it is."
Murphy, who is from Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey, played on the scout team last year so it wasn't like he was completely away from football but he did admit that he needed to get back in shape.
Breckterfield said Murphy, who is6 feet 3, 250 pounds, is one of the more physical defensive linemen on the team and he is very good at pass rush, but he is a little undersized so he has to work on his technique to become better against the run.
Like most of the defensive lineman -- and especially the ends -- Murphy likes that the Panthers are back to playing a 4-3 defense after playing in the 3-4 last year.
He said that last year, when the Panthers used a stand-up defensive end, his natural position really didn't exist, but he's back where he belongs, with his hand on the turf to start every play.
"I love it," Murphy said, "I liked the stand-up position but I am a defensive end, I like to play with my hand down and it is working out really well. I felt a little left out last year so the focus is there and I am really motivated because I want to do well this year."
NOTES -- Cornerback K'Waun Williams had surgery to repair a ligament in his knee but it was considered a minor surgery and he is expected to make a full recovery and be ready to play for the start of training camp. Williams will be out for the duration of spring camp. ... The charity youth foundations of former Panthers Torrie Cox, Kris Wilson and Lousaka Polite will reap the delicious rewards at the fourth annual "Dessert Tasting For A Cause" from 6-9 p.m. April 14at Larrimor's. Tickets can be purchased online at DessertTastingForACause.com. Follow us on Twitter @DT4ACausePITT and Facebook, Dessert Tasting For A Cause.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org , 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.