By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Trent Murphy went up against an 800-pound cow and lived to tell the story. Some 300-pound offensive lineman must seem like a featherweight to him.
Murphy, Stanford's 6-foot-6, 261-pound starting outside linebacker, grew up on a ranch just outside Tempe while he attended Brophy Prep in Phoenix, Ariz. Before his football career turned serious, Murphy thought of joining the rodeo circuit as, perhaps, a clown who runs around the ring trying to occupy an otherwise mean-spirited bull who had just thrown its rider.
His family received a male dairy cow as a present, and the cow was friendlier than most, allowing Murphy to pet it. Murphy took a liking to the cow but eventually had to start his college career.
While Murphy was away, the cow grew horns and a different disposition. Following his freshman year at Stanford, Murphy thought nothing of hopping the fence and playing around with his old buddy.
This time, though, the cow wasn't too kean on getting played with and became aggressive.
"I had him by the horns and we were in kind of a pushing match," Murphy said. "I was able to push him off his front legs and I turned around and got out of there."
Yep, he can laugh about it now.
Murphy will be in his regular mindset Thursday when the eighth-ranked Cardinal (1-0, 3-0) visits Washington for a Thursday night (6 p.m., ESPN) Pac-12 conference special.
"Trent has gotten big and gained weight," Stanford coach David Shaw said, probably not aware that playing with cows had a little to do with his increased strength. "He can pass rush and he's good against the run. He's becoming a force on that short side."
SCHOOL IN SESSION: Cardinal junior tackle Cameron Fleming likes that school has finally started.
"It gives me something to do in the morning," said Fleming, who grew up with ideas of becoming an astronaut because his father was an Air Defense Officer and the family lived in Houston, NASAS's home base.
Shaw said the most important thing about the start of school is time management.
"I've been harping on it for a week," Shaw said. "They have to make sure to get enough sleep and eat properly. When it comes time for school, there should be nothing more important. When it's time for football, there should be nothing more important."
Senior tight end Zach Ertz said the start of school means "I lose sleep a little bit."
Fleming's career as an astronaut never left the ground. "I was too big," the 6-6, 314-pounder said.
Fleming, who is majoring in aeronautics and astronautics, will have to be content designing aircraft and missiles.
PLAYING THE PASS: Sophomore strong safety Jordan Richards was not aware he led the nation in passes defended through three games. Of course, it's a statistic to which very few pay attention.
"I do pride myself on being in the right spots to make the big hits or get interceptions," Richards said. "It's about staying sound in coverage and being on top of the game."
Richards said he had a plan during the offseason, knowing he would get the opportunity to replace Delano Howell.
"I was focused on having better knowledge of the entire defense," said Richards. "I was working on something specific every day."
The Cardinal run defense, meanwhile, ranks No. 1 in the nation. Opponents are averaging just 41.3 yards per game, including sacks.