CHARLESTOWN — Charlestown senior Braiden Murphy has always played either quarterback or wide receiver throughout his football career, going back to Little League.
When he learned he would need open heart surgery this past spring, his cardiologist told him the likelihood of playing contact sports was very low. So he spent the entire off-season working on finding a new way to contribute. While the entire team was on the practice field perfecting plays, Murphy was on the game field kicking ball after ball with visions of contributing to the Pirates' success this fall.
Murphy went in for surgery May 28.
"Doctors told us it would be a six to eight weeks recovery time. My family thought I wouldn't be able to play this year. That's what they kept telling me. I talked to the cardiologist about kicking field goals and he approved. I was getting decent," Murphy said.
While Murphy has gotten the opportunity to kick one extra point — and it was a successful one at Corydon — his senior year has been much more than that.
"He went to the doctor in early July, and came in and said, 'you're not gonna believe this but I'm cleared. They said I can get tackled and everything,'" Charlestown coach Jason Hawkins said. "It was a shock to me and I think it was a shock to him. It was amazing that he did all of that work trying to be a kicker. He was really excited about it. He wanted to stay part of the team."
As a fifth-grader, Murphy's doctor discovered a murmur and diagnosed him with bicuspid aortic valve syndrome, a condition that gradually caused his heart to enlarge. Surgery would be needed eventually.
"I go back every six months and they'd do an EKG and an ultra-sound to record how large my heart was getting. I decided to get the surgery," Murphy said. "I had four options and chose the Ross procedure, where they take my pulmonary valve and use it to replace the aortic valve and replace the pulmonary valve with a donor valve."
Murphy and his stepmom Amy Murphy were at the cardiologist with the Pirates' season opener coming up.
"It was the day of our first scrimmage and they told me I was released to play. I was speechless. I started crying, me and my step-mom. I was happy to be back out there. As soon as I got cleared, I started calling all my teammates. My dad [Gary Murphy] was the first person I called," Murphy said.
Murphy had spent much of his sophomore and junior seasons at quarterback, but Hawkins had two other options there prepared to start the season in Marion Lukes and Andrew Snider.
"I knew even last year, when Braiden would go to receiver, you could tell how talented he was at receiver," Hawkins said. "He runs really good routes. He's a real good kid. Good teammate. He cares a lot about the team."
Snider, Murphy's cousin, is thrilled to have him on the field with him one last season. The two have been on teams together since they were little boys.
"Yes, I was really disappointed, I thought he wouldn't be able to play senior year with me. I was really sad that I wouldn't be able to play my senior year with him," Snider said. "At first, I was shocked when I found out he would be able to play. I didn't think he was gonna play. Once he told me he would be able to play, my heart dropped. I was really happy to find out he'd be at wide receiver."
The Pirates are a run-heavy offense with Lukes leading the way and Snider a threat as well.
But Murphy leads the Pirates with 12 receptions for 378 yards and three touchdowns. He had a 60-yard reception in last week's big marquee sectional win against No. 3 Brownstown Central. The Pirates take on No. 9 Lawrenceburg tonight in a second-round matchup.
"We're a running offense but when I do get an opportunity, I try to make the most of it," Murphy said. "I'll have to step up this week."
Murphy doesn't want to let the Brownstown Central win be the last big victory — but it will be a lasting memory.
"We're trying to make it nine in a row. Yeah, it really is a good feeling [being able to play this year], especially beating Brownstown. We've never beat them. To beat them when they're ranked No. 3 in the state. It's just a really good feeling."