ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Gibbs High School football program had hit rock bottom. It needed a change. That change came from former Florida Gators wide receiver and nine-year NFL veteran Louis Murphy.
“The first day he came in he looked familiar,” Gibbs junior linebacker Cartez Rentz, Jr. said. “I remember seeing him play on TV.”
Murphy, who went to Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, knew the challenges before taking the Gibbs job last season. The Gladiators had not had a winning season since 2015. In fact, the year before Murphy arrived; Gibbs did not win a game.
“That was the toughest thing, just getting kids to come out,” Murphy told ABC Action News sports anchor Kyle Burger. “Once we won a game, we won our first game, that was huge. We had more kids coming out."
Gibbs finished with a 3-5 record in 2020, Murphy’s first season as a head coach. But, winning games is not the only reason he does this.
“There was a need here at Gibbs,” Murphy said. “There were a lot of kids losing to the streets, gun violence, drugs, jail system. So, God called me here.”
“(He’s) making sure our grades are right,” Rentz, Jr. said. “We had seven ineligible players last year. Now we have none. He’s helped build that foundation almost like a father figure here.”
“A lot of kids used to skip (class), but now I see them in class,” Gibbs defensive end Mraquavyon Hendricks said. “They’re in class every day doing their work. It’s crazy. He’s like a dad to us. Some of us don’t have dads. Like me, I don’t have a dad.”
When asked what would happen if a player was caught skipping class: “We would have bear crawls, probably one-thousand yard bear crawls, up-downs,” Hendricks said.
Murphy runs the team like a college program — from study hall, shirt and tie pregame meals, and a tutoring program.
“By the time they leave here they’re ready to go home and go to bed,” Murphy said.
Meaning no time for the streets. Rentz, Jr. remembers his first conversation with Murphy.
“We got to call the bull crap out,” he said. “(Coach Murphy) said I’m sitting with you boys today. I’m going to push and keep striving until each and every last one of you goes to college. I’m never going to forget those words.”