Former WR Yo Murphy, now a trainer, knows all about pursuit

Yo Murphy, shown attempting to elude the Berlin Thunder's Vernon Strickland, played for the Scottish Claymores in 1996, 1997 and 1999. He was MVP of the Claymores' 1996 World Bowl victory. Pollack Sportphoto/ullstein bild/Getty Images

If ever there was someone equipped to help a would-be NFL player pursue his dream in the face of obstacles, that person would be Yo Murphy.

He was born Llewellyn Murphy Jr. but picked up his nickname from his little sister, who couldn't pronounce his first name. Watching him jump up and down, she said he looked like a yo-yo, and the name stuck.

Just like the toy, his football career has taken him up and down and around the world.

These days, Murphy, at age 46, is a partner with ASPITraining in Tampa, Florida, where he has helped groom NFL studs such as Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson, Alshon Jeffery and Carlos Hyde along with a host of Buccaneers.

In the 1990s and 2000s, though, he was one of the most-traveled wideouts on the planet, becoming the only player in football history to appear in the NFL's Super Bowl, the NFL Europe's World Bowl and the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup. On top of that, he is the only player to play regular-season games in all three of those leagues plus the XFL.

All in pursuit of one goal: a chance to play.

"It's just about saying I only need one person in this world to say, 'Yo, you've got that opportunity,'" he said. "For that to happen is not too far-fetched."

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor got his opportunity when the Philadelphia Eagles made him a first-round draft pick in 2015, but he's fighting to keep his roster spot after two middling seasons in which he totaled just 648 receiving yards. With Murphy's help, the former Southern Califorina star has impressed this offseason.

"He's a battle-tested individual," Agholor said of Murphy. "In the NFL right now, no matter who you are, you will be tested. They're bringing guys in every year, a guy behind you and a guy in front of you. But he's a guy who focused on himself. He shows you to worry about your game and not worry about anybody else."

Undrafted in 1993 after a stellar career for then-Division I-AA Idaho, Murphy chased down the NFL like defensive backs tried to chase him down. His singular focus took him from Idaho to the CFL's British Columbia Lions, where he won his first Grey Cup, and then to Scotland, where he starred for the Scottish Claymores of the NFL Europe (known as the World League of American Football until the 1998 season), was MVP of the 1996 World Bowl and finally attracted the eyes of NFL scouts.

He played three seasons with the Claymores in four years, even as he caught on with the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad for a couple of seasons. He then hooked up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1999 before returning to Minnesota. He even ventured to the XFL -- World Wrestling Entertainment's short-lived experiment with pro football -- in 2001 as a member of the Las Vegas Outlaws.

Anything to keep playing.

And play he did, going on to two more NFL stints. He played for St. Louis in 2001, when the team advanced to Super Bowl XXXVI (Murphy returned three kickoffs and caught a pass in the Rams' loss to the New England Patriots), and most of 2002, followed by a brief stay with the Kansas City Chiefs. Not ready to hang up his cleats, Murphy went back to the CFL, playing for the Ottawa Renegades from 2003 until the team ceased operations after the 2005 campaign. Then he hopped over to the Saskatchewan Roughriders for two seasons, winning a second Grey Cup in his final game.

"I was never the strongest, the fastest; I was 5-10, 185," he said. "But for me, it was just about the work. I'd just work and work and work, and I feel like I lived my life like that. I didn't run a 4.3 [40-yard dash], but God gave me persistence."

Reflecting back on a pro career that spanned 15 years and took him across the Atlantic Ocean, Murphy recalls the closest he was to the end of his rope, a feeling that helps him motivate players staring at the abyss of irrelevance.

Back in 1994, after two productive seasons with British Columbia, his agent presented him with a long-term deal with the CFL team that would secure Murphy's financial future. It would not, however, quench his desire to reach the game's highest level. Murphy bristled at the offer, and his agent tried every tactic in the book to get him to sign it. It was clear: He didn't share Murphy's faith. Days later, Murphy fired him.

"That was the darkest day I had in my career," he said. "Money wasn't even the concern for me. He told me a ton of things I didn't want to hear. If you want to get to where you want, and it's somewhere great, you're going to have to sacrifice. Then to see those sacrifices pay off? I can talk to a young man or woman and say I've been there. I have empathy. That is my biggest trait as a coach."

To the players he works with, Murphy's message hits the mark.

"He has an understanding of this game better than so many people," Agholor said. "He's able to communicate that to all the guys he trains, regardless of position. He shows us the hours it takes, the discipline it takes to do this and to do it well. He knows the sacrifice it takes."

Murphy attributes his never-quit attitude to his parents, who, he said, "instilled in me that you can win with failure. Winning is about growth. It took me awhile to understand that. I would get so frustrated with not getting the result. But it's about what you do after that."