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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Every time Louis Murphy scores a touchdown this season, watch him point to the sky.

He's talking to his guardian angel. Her name is Filomena.

Murphy and his mother, more affectionately known as Mina, were as close as a mother and son could be.

Mina found a lump in her breast his senior year of high school. Gradually, her health prevented her from attending the majority of his games last year. So mother and son devised a signal that would let them talk to each other while the wide receiver was on the field.

Whenever he scored last season, he pointed to the sky. They spoke five times.

Murphy went home for two weeks in the off-season after the Capital One Bowl when his mother's conditioned worsened and she had to be hospitalized.

"I told her that I loved her," he said. "I got a chance to talk to her before she went."

After a four-year battle with cancer, Mina, the person he had grown to call "his heart," died on Valentine's Day. She was 47.

As soon as coach Urban Meyer got the phone call, he left the Southeastern Conference meetings, hopped on a plane and headed for St. Petersburg, Murphy's hometown. Meyer's mother passed away nine years ago, so he knew he had to be there to offer Murphy his condolences and what insight he could.

"The advice when people say, 'Time heals all wounds and it's eventually going to go away,' that's absolutely wrong," Meyer said. "It's not going to go away. You just have to learn how to handle it and almost use it as strength."

His teammates rode a bus down for the services at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, where his father is the pastor. Among those in attendance was former teammate Reggie Nelson, whose mother passed away before the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.

Nelson has kept his loss extremely private, and to this day has never opened up publicly, but he reached out to Murphy. The two still swap text messages throughout the week just to check on each other.

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"This football team isn't just about going out there and putting the pads on," wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales said. "It's about taking care of each other and being a family and helping each other out. Everybody is going to have issues. … How you get through that is not by going into a shell. It's about relying on the other people behind you."

Though the love and support of his teammates has helped him cope, Murphy's grief lurks every day.

"She's on my mind all the time," he said. "Even at practice, looking over there and not being able to see her."

He knows he needs to push past the grief if he plans to build on his respectable junior season - he ranked third among receivers in receptions (37) and third in touchdowns (5) - that all started with an outstanding performance in last year's spring game. He boasted a team-high 129 receiving yards and one touchdown.

"I know that my motivation and that my work ethic is going to a whole other level," he said. "I know that I'll be doing a lot of that (pointing to the sky) sign this year."

Murphy said he will always think of his mother as his biggest fan. Though he couldn't recall the last Gators game she attended, he knows she will "have the best seat in the house" for every game of his upcoming senior year.

"I just know that she's here with me," he said. "I know that she's never going to leave me and that I have a guardian angel."

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