They are close friends and two of the best players in the Pac-12.
They used to bicker over everything — clothes, NBA2K video games, football. To this day, Washington cornerback Byron Murphy and Arizona State wide receiver N’Keal Harry — perhaps the two best players at their positions in the Pac-12 — talk and text regularly, one throwing out some trash talk and the other trying to out-do him.
“They truly are like brothers,” said Shannon Strickland, Murphy’s mother. “We are family.”
Their friendship will take a new twist Saturday night at Husky Stadium. The former high school teammates will for the first time line up against each other on a football field when the No. 10 Huskies (2-1) meet Arizona State (2-1) with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on ESPN.
“We’re always talking smack to each other,” Harry told The Seattle Times. “But it’s all love.”
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Washington’s cornerbacks typically stick to their assigned side of the field — Murphy on the left and senior Jordan Miller on the right — but Murphy planned to make a pitch to co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake to stick to Harry where ever the 6-foot-4, 213-pound receiver lines up Saturday night. That would pit the Huskies’ jersey No. 1 against Arizona State’s No. 1.
Harry would seem to welcome it.
“That,” he said, “is one matchup I’m extremely excited for.”
Murphy and Harry met when they were freshmen in high school in the Phoenix area, then both played together during their sophomore season at Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe. Harry, who was brought from the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent to Arizona by grandmother Felna when he was 4, even lived with Murphy for a few months that year.
Murphy, the Huskies’ third-year sophomore cornerback, did not play against Arizona State last year while he recovered from surgery on his broken foot. He did fly back to Arizona on his own for that game — then catching a 5:40 a.m. flight back to Seattle the morning after the night game — having watched in person as the Huskies suffered their most frustrating defeat of 2017, a 13-7 loss in Tempe.
“I feel like this game right here is the most juice I have,” Murphy said Tuesday, “because last year I didn’t get to play and I was watching everything going on and we came up short and that really hurt because that was in my hometown.”
As he watched that game from the UW sideline, Murphy had to listen to Arizona State fans badgering him about not choosing to play for the hometown Sun Devils.
“That just made me mad, too,” Murphy said.
After their sophomore year of high school, Murphy transferred to Saguaro in Scottsdale; Harry finished his prep career at Chandler High. They were two of Arizona’s top-ranked recruits in the Class of 2016, and at one point they had made a pact with each other to attend the same college. They even made their official recruiting visit to Washington together.
Harry and Chase Lucas — another close friend — both had chosen to attend Arizona State a few months earlier, but about 10 days before National Signing Day in 2016 Murphy made up his mind to play for the Huskies, citing his close relationship with Lake. It was a decision that stunned many around Arizona.
Murphy nearly changed his mind after several conversations with Arizona State coaches on signing day, which he called “one of the most stressful days of my life.” In the end, he stuck with his commitment to UW.
“It was a lot of stuff going on — personal, family business, stuff like that — and honestly this program is just amazing,” Murphy said. “Coach Lake, Coach Pete, I love everything about what they run up here. And Coach Lake was a good guy for me, a good coach, a great mentor.”
Lake said it was a battle until the end to land Murphy.
“Definitely one of my more stressful days here being a Washington coach was the morning of signing day that year, when it felt like we were going to lose him,” Lake said Tuesday. “I’m extremely happy that he’s here. He’s playing big-time football for us, and our connection has gotten stronger and stronger every year that he’s been here.”
Murphy missed seven games in 2017 and still wound up leading the team with three interceptions. In his first Pac-12 road game last Saturday, he had perhaps the best game of his career in the Huskies’ 21-7 victory at Utah, posting five tackles, one tackle for loss, four pass breakups and one jarring shoulder-to-chest hit on Utes receiver Britain Covey.
A third-year junior, Harry is being projected by some as a top-10 choice in the NFL draft next year. He was the Pac-12’s leading receiver in 2017 — when he had 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns — and in three games this season he has 21 catches for 315 yards and four touchdowns.
“The best receiver in our conference, for sure, if not one of the best in the country,” Lake said. “Amazing hands. Not just really good hands — he has amazing hands. He catches everything. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”