Notre Dame Football: Xavier Murphy

A few more pregame notes

October, 29, 2011
10/29/11
3:40
PM ET
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Walk-on Chris Salvi is today's game captain for the Irish, as he joined season captain Harrison Smith.

There was a moment of silence for former team manger and intern Xavier Murphy, who lost his battle with leukemia Oct. 11. Red t-shirts encouraging others to "Raise an X for X" are scattered throughout the stadium today, and the Irish's helmets will have shamrock decals with an "X" for the rest of the season.

Navy won the toss and will receive, so we're about to get started. Be sure to keep it here for live updates and analysis.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Xavier Murphy was born to go to Notre Dame. His grandfather went there, and Xavier soon became a die-hard fan of the Irish. When Xavier's mother, Marcia, was in labor with him, she was watching Notre Dame beat Navy, the eighth of 12 wins in the team's last national title season.

Xavier tried to walk on to the football team his freshman year without telling his parents. He was cut. He became a manager, helping with all sports before being voted by his peers as one of three students to become head managers for football. This year, filling in the newly-created role of team intern, he did laundry, lent a hand at practice and helped load the equipment truck for road games.

He loved his job, all right. When John Hull, his best friend from Ball State, visited Murphy during the Irish's bye week last season, the two woke up early that Saturday. Murphy had a key to Notre Dame Stadium, and he was thrilled to show where he worked.

Xavier Murphy
Courtesy of John HullXavier Murphy, left, with friend John Hull while in high school.
"We went out on the field and we were the only ones in the stadium tossing the pigskin back and forth," Hull recalled. "It was a really cool day for me."

Murphy gave Hull a team fleece, a few hats and a couple of shirts, one of which -- navy blue, short-sleeves; gold Notre Dame logo on the left corner, Adidas emblem on the right -- Hull wore two Fridays ago to the Robert Loose Funeral Home in Anderson, Ind.

There, Hull paid his respects to Murphy after he died of leukemia at the age of 22. Murphy would have turned 23 this Saturday, when Notre Dame hosts Navy. The Irish helmet will feature a decal with the letter "X" inside of a shamrock for the rest of the season.

Seven-hundred red t-shirts and 1,300 red bandanas stating "Raise an X for X" are being sold on campus this week in advance of the game. Murphy's family is expected to attend the contest. Proceeds from sales will go toward a scholarship at Xavier's alma mater and his mother's employer, Guerin Catholic, along with Relay for Life.

"X was with us every day," said center Braxston Cave, who joined team captain Harrison Smith in wearing those red t-shirts to a press conference Wednesday. "Always a great person to be around, willing to do anything for you. Always had a smile on his face, cracking jokes. He will definitely be terribly missed. Just a great, typical Notre Dame guy."

"X" stands for more than Xavier. When the Fighting Irish band plays the Celtic Chant at sporting events, and when fans correspond by putting up their dukes like the mascot, residents of Zahm, Murphy's former dorm, usually rebel. Each puts an "X" over his head. Don't ask. It's a Zahm thing.

"If you meet a Notre Dame alum, you ask, 'What hall are you from,' not, 'What year did you graduate,' " said Corry Colonna, Zahm Hall rector. "It's part of your identity."

About two weeks before Murphy was set to graduate in May, he noticed his name wasn't on the list of graduation candidates. He freaked out before discovering he was missing a work, leisure and happiness seminar, which was not offered in the summer and could not be completed online. Any hopes of graduate school were put on hold. He had to return to campus this fall.

About two weeks into Notre Dame's season, a day after the Sept. 10 game at Michigan, Murphy called his parents back in Anderson and complained of back pain.

"I just feel crappy," his mother remembered him saying. "I need to go to the doctor."

He was diagnosed with leukemia, and immediately a fifth year at Notre Dame became a blessing in disguise.

Zahm Hall
Courtesy of Corry ColonnaZahm Hall residents honor Xavier Murphy in the basement of their dorm.
Team equipment manager Ryan Grooms, whom Murphy worked for, joined him at nearby Memorial Hospital the night he checked in. School president Fr. John Jenkins sent Murphy a hand-written note, and Murphy was given his diploma. Notre Dame promised to take good care of his younger brother Julian, who is in his fourth year of a five-year architecture program.

Murphy needed frequent blood transfusions as part of his treatment, so Colonna organized an on-campus blood drive for Nov. 7. The blood will go to the Indiana Blood Center, used by Riley Hospital in Indianapolis, where Murphy eventually stayed.

Murphy died exactly one month after he was diagnosed, in the early hours of Oct. 11. He had developed pneumonia that weekend.

Later that Tuesday, the chapel in Zahm overflowed with close to 160 people for a Mass in Murphy's honor. They then proceeded with candles to the Grotto, and many walked with their arms crossed to form an "X" above their heads.

There was a joke Hull told Murphy's mother, his confirmation sponsor, at the visitation three days later, one passed around by family and close friends since. Hull suggested that, had someone told Murphy before he got sick that Notre Dame's helmets would feature decals for him, that coach Brian Kelly would mention him in a press conference, that he would be honored at a game … and all he would have to do is sacrifice his life, he would do so.

"I think there'd be no degree of hesitation," Hull said with a laugh.

The football team has not found a new intern. It has not even bothered to try.

"We may not have even had the position had it not been able to be Xavier," Grooms said. "It just worked out. It was convenient. We wanted someone we knew and trusted. We didn't want to open it up to the outside, and we did not replace him."

Nearly three weeks ago, Marcia Murphy put Notre Dame's game against Air Force on the hospital television for Xavier. He asked her to lie with him. She got in his bed, he fell asleep and Mom cracked a smile.

"I had to learn to love football," Marcia said, "but I remember thinking, Gosh, he finally has his priorities straight: It's more important to snuggle with Mom than enjoy a football game.

"I didn't know that would be the last game I'd be watching with him, but I'm glad we spent it that way."

Three days later Xavier was gone, and Marcia was on the phone with Colonna. The rector told her the hope had been for her son to see the "Raise an X for X" campaign from his hospital bed on his 23rd birthday, this Saturday against Navy.

"And now he'll be able to see it from heaven," she said.

New helmets, same jerseys for Irish

October, 19, 2011
10/19/11
7:04
PM ET
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly entered his meeting with reporters after practice Wednesday carrying a gold helmet, which he placed in front of his feet before fielding more than two minutes of questions about the Irish's wardrobe for the weekend.

The helmets, which Notre Dame will wear this Saturday against USC, are closer in color to that of the Golden Dome. The 23.9 carat golden dust from the Golden Dome will still be used in the helmets. And managers will no longer paint them.

"We finally got it right," Kelly said. "Jack [Swarbrick] and I have been frustrated with the color of the helmet and we got Ryan Grooms, our equipment manager who's worked diligently in getting this put together, and we felt that we finally got the gold the right way. It's not all of, it's not those different shades that we've seen over the years, so we're pretty excited about it. We'll wear those this weekend."

Kelly said he noticed the tints of the old helmets were changing ever-so slightly in his two years at Notre Dame, and he said he feels this model does a better job of maintaining the tradition of the Irish's uniforms.

"We've been frustrated with the helmet," Kelly said. "It just has never gotten to the right color. We want it to be the Golden Dome. I mean, that's the representation for me. Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, but that's the gold that we were looking for. Still has the flake, the gold flake in it. The only difference is our managers won't paint these."

Kelly said the helmets were already tested under high-definition colors and should stand out even more under the lights this weekend.

He also said the Irish would wear their "traditional colors" this weekend, though his vagueness with those were consistent with the past two weeks, as he has dodged all jersey questions.

"Last I checked they were blue, white and gold," he said, before quickly adding, "and green."

Grooms, the team equipment manager, seemed to clear that up on Twitter, however, posting that Notre Dame would wear blue jerseys.

Notre Dame athletics' Facebook page has several photos of the new helmets, along with the old ones, here.

Notes: The helmets of Irish players will feature a green shamrock sticker featuring a black "X" for the rest of the season, in honor of late team intern Xavier Murphy, who lost his battle with leukemia Oct. 11. The team will hold a moment of silence before next week's game against Navy, as that would have been Murphy's 23rd birthday and is technically the first game after fall break, which Notre Dame students are currently on. Murphy's family is scheduled to attend the Oct. 29 game. ... Long-snapper Jordan Cowart (broken hand) is cleared to play, but Kelly said he is still competing with Ryan Kavanagh and Braxston Cave this week for snaps. ... Defensive end Ethan Johnson (ankle) is cleared to play but is not yet 100 percent. He won't play his normal 50-60 snaps Saturday.

Team intern dies after leukemia battle

October, 12, 2011
10/12/11
9:00
AM ET
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Notre Dame football team suffered a tragic loss Tuesday morning, as team intern and fifth-year student Xavier Murphy died of complications of leukemia.

"He was an awesome, high-energy, fun guy," Brian Kelly said. "And he got really close to a lot of the staff, because as a senior manager you're on the road with us, you're taking attendance, you're getting the snacks out, you're helping us out with our gear. It's a tough loss."

Murphy, 22, had complained of back pain four weeks ago. Kelly said Irish trainers sent him for an MRI, which revealed the bad news.

The team gathered in prayer after practice Tuesday.

“Our prayers and condolences go out to Xavier’s family and friends,” Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president, said in a statement. “By all accounts he was an exceptional and greatly loved young man who will be deeply missed.”

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