COLUMBIA — At first glance, the only differences are the "1" and the "3."
Look more closely at the two wiry freshman tailbacks wearing Nos. 41 and 43. They have lean, muscular arms and legs, similar coloring and closely cropped black hair. The one wearing No. 43 is slightly shorter than the other, and his sparse facial hair is slightly more manicured than his teammate’s. They flash white smiles as they talk, though you’ll catch the glint of sunlight as it hits No. 43’s braces. Aside from those differences and some inconspicuous tattoos, Henry Josey, who is No. 41, and Marcus Murphy, who has No. 43, are almost indistinguishable.
“It’s crazy, because I get them mixed up sometimes,” fellow tailback Derrick Washington said. “I’ll call one of them by the wrong name, and we’ll just laugh and joke about it.”
Washington, who serves as a mentor to his two backups, has watched Josey and Murphy evolve through summer practices and preseason camp into two of the most talked-about freshmen on the team. Although each displays a knowledge for the game, speed and ball-handling skills, they credit much of their success to their relationships both with Washington and each other.
Though they are listed on the depth chart as tailbacks (Josey is currently fourth-string and Murphy fifth) Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and running backs coach Brian Jones think Josey and Murphy could fill bigger roles on the team.
“Murphy, Josey, those are two really good, great quickness guys,” Pinkel said. “They’ve got phenomenal quickness. Right now, we’ve got them fourth and fifth just to get them work, but it’s obvious that they’ve got ability.”
He also added that coaches are considering the two freshmen for punt returns and kick returns and that Murphy may also see some snaps as a receiver.
“They are somewhat similar, but … Marcus Murphy is a kid that can play a lot of different positions for you,” Jones said. “He can be a receiver, he can be a running back. He’s very talented. Henry is just a very talented running back. There, you can do a lot of things with him also. He’s got very good vision and runs the ball very well.”
Obviously, Murphy and Josey have a big personality to look up to and learn from at their position: Washington. The freshmen know that having Washington around and sharing his position offers a great opportunity for them to improve, and they’re taking advantage of any lessons he’s willing to teach them.
“Derrick has provided great leadership for the whole group, for the whole team, and they are learning from him in terms of the blocking skills, how to practice and carrying a great attitude on the football field,” Jones said.
Murphy added that much of the help Washington has offered to him and Josey has come off of the field.
“In video, he shows us what we need to do, what we’re doing wrong,” Murphy said. “He just teaches us a lot. It’s good having a leader like him at the position, above us.”
Josey said that, though Washington’s help with playing techniques has been beneficial, he most values the senior for his help with the mental aspects of the game.
“Mentally I’ve improved,” Josey said. “My attitude towards the game has changed, and just being around everyone makes me just work hard ... I’ve got to work harder than I did in my past years. Every day, I come out here with a positive affirmation just from watching Derrick practice and how he practices every day. He always brings it.”
Washington’s boisterous personality has also helped the freshmen to overcome their initial shyness, especially Josey.
“Just in our meetings, they kid around with each other a lot,” Jones said. “What I’ve seen, the whole group, but especially those freshmen, get along together well. Everybody’s kind of surprised by how boisterous Henry is at our meetings for a freshman. It would make us kind of turn around and look at him at the back of the room.”
Although Washington has set an example for Josey and Murphy, the freshmen said that living up to that example is difficult, if not impossible. That’s where their relationship with each other comes in. They tailbacks are not only strikingly similar, they’re also best friends, and their constant proximity only reinforces the confusion over who is who.
Josey, who is from DeSoto, Texas, and Murphy, who is from Angleton, Texas, met last year when they visited the team together. Then, in May, they ran track against each other.
“We’ve built a relationship over the last year, and now we do stay pretty close together,” Murphy said.
This summer, the two lived across the hall from each other, and Josey drove Murphy to practice every day. In addition to carpooling and practicing together, the two also ate most of their meals together. On the field, their friendship carries over. Although they’re both competing at the same position, they rely on a constant back-and-forth dialogue while playing in order to improve. If Josey has a question about a play or drill, he first consults Murphy to see what sort of insight his teammate has.
“If we don’t know something, we ask each other,” he said. “He knows some stuff, I know some of the other stuff, and we just work together as a team.”
Sure, it’s a competition, and Murphy and Josey are aware that they have potential. In order to tap that potential, though, they know that they’re first here to learn in any way that they can.
“We come in here together and we learn all we can learn from the other guys and do what we can do to get on the field,” Murphy said.