College Sports

How NC State’s Larrell Murchison made his way from juco to leading the ACC in sacks

Larrell Murchison hasn’t looked at a list of the ACC statistical leaders and he doesn’t plan to any time soon.

If he did, the N.C. State senior defensive tackle would see his name first in sacks with seven, which also ranks fourth-best in the country.

But Murchison (6-3, 285 pounds) doesn’t want to look, partly because individual numbers don’t really matter to him and mainly because he doesn’t want to feel validated.

He has been overlooked and doubted since he was a two-way force at East Bladen High School. After a standout junior college career at Louisburg, he had a scholarship offer pulled by an SEC power 24 hours before Signing Day.

The doubts, the slights and the thought of what he has been through to get to this point of his career at N.C. State (4-2, 1-1 ACC), keep him motivated.

“I think about it every day,” Murchison said. “It kind of brings me to tears. I’ve come a long way but I’ve still got a long way to go.”

Boston College (3-3, 1-2) represents the next obstacle for Murchison and a Wolfpack defense which has recorded 16 sacks in its first two ACC games.

The Eagles have only given up three sacks in six total games this season, which equals the fewest in the country.

N.C. State also has the top rushing defense in the ACC. It has allowed 66.7 yards per game on the ground. The Eagles lead the conference in rushing offense with 253.2 yards per game.

N.C. State coach Dave Doeren described the matchup as “old school in the trenches.” Murchison has another label for it.

“This is big-boy football,” Murchison said.

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From juco to the SEC

There was a time when the Elizabethtown native wasn’t sure if he would ever get the chance to play any kind of college football. At East Bladen, he was a fullback in a “Wing T” offense and the lead blocker for his twin brother, Farrell, a tailback.

The brothers had planned to go to Winston-Salem State together but Larrell couldn’t hit the qualifying SAT score. They decided to take a detour to Louisburg, which worked out for both of them.

Farrell made it to Winston-Salem State. He has written his own success story, overcoming testicular cancer to return to the Rams’ backfield as a fifth-year senior this season.

Larrell immediately impressed his coaches at Louisburg with his work ethic and positive attitude. The juco route is not for everyone, especially when it’s not by choice, but Murchison put his head down and went to work.

“He was just one of those guys you never had to worry about,” said Louisburg coach Chris Tolbert, who was Murchison’s position coach before becoming the Hurricanes’ head coach this season. “He loved the weight room, he was always on time and practice was important to him.”

It got to the point in practice, where Tolbert said he had to tell Murchison to occasionally throttle it back.

“It was like, ‘Let the offense get some confidence,’ “ Tolbert said. “Everyday was gameday for him.”

Major Division I coaches took notice of Murchison during his sophomore season at Louisburg in 2016. The Hurricanes went 9-0 and Murchison had 41 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Houston and Louisville recruited Murchison early but Tray Scott, then an assistant at North Carolina, made a strong connection.

Murchison was ready to go where Scott went. When Scott left UNC after the 2016 season for Ole Miss, he committed to Ole Miss. Six weeks later, Scott decided to jump to Georgia and Murchison changed his commitment to the Bulldogs.

Only one problem: 24 hours before Signing Day in 2017, Tracy Rocker, then an assistant at Georgia, called Tolbert with some bad news.

“We don’t have a spot for him,” Tolbert said Rocker told him.

Georgia had “over-signed” or had more commitments in the recruiting class than scholarships.

“I was like, ‘Wow,’” Murchison said when he found out what had happened with Georgia. “It kind of stunned me but I knew I had options.”

A connection at NC State

Funny thing about recruiting is everyone knows someone from somewhere. Luckily for N.C. State, that someone for Tolbert was director of high school relations Henry Trevathan Jr. Tolbert and Trevathan had worked together at Cardinal Gibbons high school in Raleigh.

A week or two before Signing Day in ‘17, Trevathan had reached out to Tolbert about Murchison. When Georgia reneged on its offer, Tolbert knew who to call.

“It would have been easy to get mad at Georgia but that wasn’t going to help Larrell,” Tolbert said. “I got off the phone and and immediately called coach Trevathan.”

With the chance to stay closer to home and for his parents to come watch his games, Murchison quickly reconciled the disappointment of being snubbed by Georgia.

Doeren likes to redshirt juco transfers to help them get acclimated to school and to be able go through a year with strength coach Dantonio Burnette and his staff. Murchison would have preferred to play right away but the redshirt year also gave him a chance to learn from the veterans on N.C. State’s defensive line in 2017.

The Wolfpack had four NFL draft picks on the defensive front that year. The chance to learn from Bradley Chubb and B.J. Hill was like a master class in preparation.

“They taught me things without probably even knowing,” Murchison said. “They put the work in every day and had the same attitude and never complained.”

Learning from future pros

Now it’s Murchison who carries the torch for the younger defensive linemen in the program, Doeren said.

And it’s Murchison who is getting the attention of NFL scouts. He had 34 tackles and four sacks in 13 starts as a junior. He even had an interception but his job in a four-man front was mostly to occupy blockers so others could get to the quarterback.

In N.C. State’s new three-man front, Murchison is playing all over the line. He plays at the end, or the “4” or “5” technique on first and second downs, and then moves to the nose tackle, or the “0” technique, on third down.

With only the center to beat, Murchison has been a force when he gets man-to-man blocking. He had 3.5 sacks in a loss at Florida State on Sept. 28 and then two more in the win over Syracuse this past Thursday. Of his 19 tackles for the season, 8.5 have been for a loss.

The new alignment and the ability to move Murchison around the line has helped create mismatches, Doeren said.

“It’s hard for them to get zeroed in on where he’s going to be lined up at times,” Doeren said.

Murchison has flourished despite a broken bone in his right index finger. The injury happened in the second game of the season. After everything that Murchison has been through, he wasn’t going to let that slow him down.

And he won’t let his success stop him, either. He’s not paying attention to the numbers. He only remembers the doubts.

“That’s always going to be my mindset,” he said. “I still feel like I have a lot to prove.”

NC State at Boston College

When: Noon, Saturday

Where: Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Watch: Fox Sports Carolinas

Listen: WRAL-101.5 Triangle; WXRC-95.7 Charlotte

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Joe Giglio has worked at The N&O since 1995 and has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005. He grew up in Ringwood, N.J. and graduated from N.C. State.
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