Sports

UCLA’s football team got a pair of edge-rusher twins at a bargain.

Grayson Murphy knows what it’s like to go into the bathroom, look in the mirror and see another version of himself.

Because he’s standing right there.

That familiar face brushes his teeth in unison every morning, after always getting up at the same time. The practically indistinguishable pair will go on to eat the same breakfast, complete the same football practice, attend the same classes, finish the same homework and wind down at the same bedtime.

Grayson and Gabriel Murphy aren’t inseparable, they’re closer than that.

“I wouldn’t even say we’ve been away from each other for 24 hours our whole lives,” Gabriel said.

Not everything about the twins is identical. Grayson has a slightly thicker build, as well as a small scar over his left eye. Gabriel’s curly hair was dyed a slightly darker yellow, his mother unable to duplicate the same shade between her sons.

UCLA’s Gabriel, left, and Grayson Murphy take a break during practice Aug. 18.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Even so, an untrained eye can hardly differentiate the UCLA edge rushers who arrived last spring after transferring from North Texas. Coach Chip Kelly, always a stickler for detail, has a plan to greet one of the twins if he sees him walking around campus without the other.

“Murph,” Kelly said when asked what he would say. “Murph works good.”

Kelly is seeing double these days because of the twins’ refusal to go solo. As sophomores in high school, they thought about how rarely they had been apart. The only time one attended a sleepover without the other was when the one left behind was grounded.

They made a pact. They would play together in college, no matter what it took. They told their high school coach to not even have conversations with coaches who would not take them as a package deal.

The decision had some unintended consequences. The twins wanted to play for a Power Five conference school but could not find anyone willing to take them both.

“Oklahoma State would want one but not the other, TCU would want one but not the other,” recalled Charles Faucette, the former Chargers linebacker who coached the twins at Dallas Bishop Lynch High. “They both had offers to go to Power Five schools but they weren’t together, so that’s what made it so difficult.”

Part of the problem was their differing positions at the time, Grayson starring at outside linebacker and Gabriel at inside linebacker-pass rusher. Most colleges would need one spot filled but not the other. Another issue was that coaches figured if one twin transferred, the other was sure to follow.

Their dilemma crystallized at a Texas Christian camp, a coach informing the twins the team couldn’t take them both. Amid tears on the drive home, they called a coach from North Texas, a Group of Five school that had offered dual scholarships, to deliver the news: They would come and show everybody else what they were missing.

“It got emotional on the phone call,” Grayson said, “because our dream was always to go Power Five and play big-time college football and it just kind of upset us at the time because we knew we weren’t going to make that dream a reality at that moment.”

“I wouldn’t even say we’ve been away from each other for 24 hours our whole lives.”

— Gabriel Murphy

UCLA defensive linemen Grayson (12) and Gabriel (11) Murphy celebrate after a sack against Alabama State.

UCLA defensive linemen Grayson (12) and Gabriel (11) Murphy celebrate after a sack against Alabama State on Sept. 10 at the Rose Bowl.

(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

There was some comfort in their initial college choice. North Texas was about a 40-minute drive from their suburban Dallas home, allowing them to fill laundry baskets with home-cooked meals to take back to campus each week.

It also kept them close to the parents who had doted on them since birth. Their father, Chris, remembered thinking when his wife, Shaunielle, told him she was pregnant that since the couple already had two children, a third wouldn’t be much more expensive. A few months later, she called to say they were going to have twins.

“I thought to myself right then,” Chris said, “well, I guess four is going to be no more expensive than three.”

Grayson was born two minutes after Gabriel, and there were complications with the delivery of the second twin. His umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, Grayson wasn’t breathing. Nurses hurried him into another room to be revived.

They were named Christian Gabriel and Christiano Grayson. Like their older siblings who were also named in honor of their father, the twins would go by their middle names to avoid confusion.

But sometimes even their parents couldn’t tell them apart. Shaunielle dressed them in identical outfits. Chris once spanked the wrong twin, later telling him he would get a pass the next time he misbehaved.

The only time they didn’t have the same class schedule was as freshmen in high school. A counselor was worried the twins might terrorize their teachers and besides, they really should be split up to make new friends.

By the time they were redshirt freshmen at North Texas, they were terrifying quarterbacks. After rarely contributing at linebacker, even in practice, they convinced a coach to let them play edge rusher on the scout team early in the 2020 season.

In the next game, against Middle Tennessee State, Gabriel logged his first sack and Grayson picked up three quarterback hurries and a tackle for loss. It was double trouble for the rest of Conference USA, the twins going on to make all-conference teams by the end of the following season.

North Texas' Grayson (9) and Gabriel (11) Murphy celebrate after sacking UTSA quarterback Josh Adkins.

North Texas’ Grayson (9) and Gabriel (11) Murphy celebrate after sacking UTSA quarterback Josh Adkins on Nov. 27 in Denton, Texas.

(Richard Rodriguez / Getty Images)

But in the back of their minds was that lingering desire for big-time college football. They entered the transfer portal and this time pretty much everybody wanted them both. More than 30 offers from Power Five teams poured in. Oregon State. Oklahoma. USC. UCLA. Penn State. The twins had their pick.

The Bruins had an early edge when outside linebackers coach Ikaika Malloe, who had just returned to Southern California from a recruiting trip, hopped on another plane to Dallas for an in-home visit. Malloe sold the twins on his vision of an attacking defense that could help the team compete for a Pac-12 championship.

Penn State nearly swayed their allegiance during a recruiting visit but made one small, critical mistake. Among the school-issued clothing items the twins were shown was a coat several inches thick, reminding them of the brutal cold they would endure. They also inquired about the quality of the food and were told, in essence, it wouldn’t earn any Michelin stars.

Meanwhile, UCLA’s lavish buffet spread had earned raves from a trusted source in Cam Johnson, a former North Texas teammate of the twins who spent his final college season in 2021 as a defensive back with the Bruins. They were sold.

The only thing UCLA couldn’t offer was the No. 9 that Grayson preferred because it was taken, so he switched to No. 12. It was just one more way to get closer to his brother, who wore No. 11.

Twinning is winning for the unbeaten Bruins (3-0) thanks in part to the 6-foot-3, 262-pound newcomers nicknamed “Texas Two-Step” by linebacker Bo Calvert. They combined for one of the highlights — and bloopers — of the early season when Gabriel recovered a fumble against Alabama State and flipped the ball to Grayson for an apparent touchdown, only for it to be called back because it was an illegal pass.

“I didn’t know I was throwing it forward,” said Gabriel, who lost track of his bearings. “We were just out there having fun.”

They will finally get to experience major conference football Saturday when UCLA faces Colorado (0-3) during its Pac-12 opener in Boulder, a prelude to even bigger games against Utah, Oregon and USC. The twins intend on giving the Trojans a second setback after spurning them for their crosstown rivals.

“I always wanted to come to UCLA, I’m just going to say that,” Grayson said when asked how seriously he considered USC.

Gabriel nodded and smiled. The feeling was mutual.

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