STAMFORD, Conn. — Ryan Murphy has always looked for ways to give back to his community and make his family proud — one of the many reasons he’s one of just eight tri-state finalists for the Heart of a Giant award.
Nominated by his coach, the St. Luke’s football player is the only Connecticut finalist in the contest presented by Hospital for Special Surgery and the New York Giants. The annual competition emphasizes unparalleled work ethic and passion for the game.
“I’d say I was excited to find out I was a finalist,” said the Stamford resident, who is a senior at the New Canaan school. “I’m really thankful to all the people who supported me.”
As a finalist, Murphy will receive a $1,500 equipment grant for his school’s football program. He stands to win another $3,500 if he’s named the champ on Dec. 12.
Murphy started playing football in fifth grade at the urging of his grandfather, who also took to the football field as a youth.
“He played back in the day when there were leather helmets,” Murphy said.
Murphy, who plays offensive tackle, guard, center and defensive tackle, lives with his parents and grandparents. He said he often looks to his grandfather for inspiration and guidance.
On the Heart of a Giant website, he wrote about the special bond he has with his grandfather, who has had four heart attacks and other medical setbacks in recent years. Murphy said he believes he’s continuing his grandfather’s legacy.
“Even though he is physically unable to support me on the field, I know that he is with me in spirit during games,” the teen wrote. “When I return home from the game, he always asks the same question no matter the score or my personal performance: ‘Did you leave your heart on the field?’ Every time I suit up for a game, I know that I must leave my heart on the field because, sadly, my grandpa might not be there to ask me that question next week.”
Murphy’s coach nominated him because he represents what the St. Luke’s football program attempts to build — strong athletes with a sense of respect, responsibility and compassion for others. The team often performs community service together, including hosting a mock practice for children at the George Washington Carver Community Center in Norwalk earlier this year.
“That was a really rewarding experience,” Murphy said.
If Murphy wins the Heart of a Giant award, he’ll travel to the Dec. 18 Giants game against the Detroit Lions, where he’ll receive the prize. It would be a great honor, he said.
“I’m a Giants fan,” he said. “I love Big Blue.”
Even if he doesn’t win, Murphy has his sites on the future. He plans to join the military and is closely considering each branch.
“I’m incredibly lucky,” he said. “We have a lot of freedom and opportunities in America and I feel I need to give back to make sure future generations do, too.”