Prep Soccer

In Marion, Murphy brothers find a family and a game they love

Samuel, Jaffer and Levi Murphy. (The Gazette)
Samuel, Jaffer and Levi Murphy. (The Gazette)
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MARION — There has to be a prep soccer season. Just has to be.

For all of the kids and coaches out there who have worked so hard to prepare. Who love the game with every fiber in their bodies.

For the Murphy brothers at Marion High School.

It’s the last opportunity for Jaffer, Levi and Samuel to be on the pitch together, which means more than you know. Way more than you know.

Their story, the entire Murphy family’s story, is something.

“What’s going through my mind right now is just shock from this whole COVID-19 thing,” Jaffer Murphy said. “I think it’s great that the state is keeping everything on hold right now, trying to keep everybody safe. This is my senior year, my last year, and it would be a great opportunity to get the season rolling with my brothers and everything. I mean, if things do hold where we start practice May 1 and have games May 8, I think we can still have a pretty decent season, even though it’d be shortened and everything like that.”

Jaffer Murphy is one of the state’s best players, a prolific striker/attacking midfielder who had 46 goals in 17 games last season. He will play college soccer at Drake.

Levi Murphy is a junior who helps controls the pace and flow of the game from the left wing. Right now, he wants to play at Wartburg College and perhaps study medicine.

Samuel Murphy (he actually wants to go by Sam) is the versatile one, a junior who can play striker, midfield or go to the back and be a defender. He eventually wants to go to school in Colorado and study film.

“We have played a lot together in the past,” Levi said. “We know each other’s games, know each other’s strengths. It’s kind of like playing soccer with yourself in a way because we are so familiar with one another ... Jaffer brings incredible soccer IQ, incredible footwork and skills. Sam has speed, is so fast. I’m not as fast as Sam, don’t have as good a foot as Jaffer. Kind of a combination of both of them.”

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“People always ask us who is the best of the three,” Sam Murphy said. “But I can’t honestly answer that.”

It really doesn’t matter because soccer is but a footnote here with these guys. Simply a footnote.

They were born in Liberia, a West African country founded in 1822 as a result of efforts to settle freed American slaves. It has been an unstable place for years, plagued by multiple civil wars and presidential dictatorships.

Jaffer and Levi are actually cousins biologically, their fathers being brothers. The boys’ parents were unable to safely care for them, wished them better lives, so left them at an orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.

Sean and Maya Murphy then literally came to their rescue.

The Marion couple had been married seven years and were told they likely would never conceive a child. Neighbors had been successful with adoption, which piqued their interest.

Coming across the agency working with the Liberian orphanage, they discussed the possibility of adopting from it. Maya was convinced pretty quickly, while it took Sean awhile to get there.

It’s a major, major commitment.

“I think I was looking at the long-term ramifications of it,” Sean Murphy said. “There’s no return policy. Once you are in, you’re in, and there is no looking back ... My heart was going ‘Yeah, of course, we’ll adopt them.’ But my brain was going ‘Let’s think about this. Can we do this?’ It really came down to trusting God and realizing he had a bigger plan for us.”

The couple continually pored over 80 or so photographs from the orphanage. They had no personal information on any of the kids they were seeing, just the photos.

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After deciding adoption was fully the route they wanted to go, they discussed which of the children had caught their respective set of eyes. Amazingly, they agreed it was Jaffer, Levi and Sam.

“All we had was a name and a picture. That was it,” Maya Murphy said. “Fate, I don’t know. We just kept coming back to the same three kids.”

The adoption process took roughly six months and went unusually smooth. It was as if the whole thing was meant to be.

Sean traveled to Liberia to pick the boys up in March 2006, spending 10 days in Monrovia at a guesthouse where he and the boys could be introduced and become familiar with each other. He immediately gave them each homemade necklaces with a picture of Maya on them.

The trip home was brutal. They went from Monrovia to Sierra Leone to Belgium to Chicago and finally Cedar Rapids.

Jaffer, who was 4 at the time, became very sick with what eventually was diagnosed as malaria. It is a disease caused by a parasite transmitted through mosquito bites.

“Typically in Africa, kids under the age of 5 don’t survive the disease I had,” Jaffer Murphy said. “So I just have to thank God. He gave me a second opportunity at life. I was instantly in the hospital, getting treatments, getting cured of it. I’m 18 years old now, living life to the fullest.”

Sean Murphy lauded the random aid he received from an American woman working as a missionary for helping him take care of all three boys during the two airplane flights they just happened to be on together. The malaria-stricken Jaffer obviously needed extra special attention.

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“I remember at the end of the trip, I don’t want to miss my flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids,” Sean said. “So here I am, I have one of the kids on the rollers of my suitcase, straddled. I’m holding Jaffer, and one of the other boys is walking beside me. We’re going as fast as we can to connect with our flight. We made it, we finally get home, we’re going down the escalator at the Cedar Rapids airport, and there’s my wife and some friends. The boys recognized Maya right away because they’d been looking at her picture for 10 days.”

None of the boys can remember their entry into America. Jaffer was 4, Levi and Sam 3.

“All I know is God saved us, and gave us a chance at life,” Levi said.

“I think about it quite a lot,” Sam said. “The civil war in our country has just ended. The chances for kids there aren’t good. If you are a 5-year-old in Liberia, you have a 50-percent chance of survival. (The Murphys) gave us a chance.”

A chance at life, a chance to be part of a loving family, a chance to play sports. Jaffer also was a starter for a good Marion basketball team this season and in football made field goals of 56 and 48 yards as the Indians’ kicker in the regular-season finale last fall.

The boys started playing soccer at young ages, growing up through the local club system. Jaffer and Levi’s biological fathers played soccer in Liberia, which might be where their love of the game originates.

“We’re all our own different individual person,” Jaffer said. “But we love each other, that’s the main part. We get along quite nicely on the field, bring different skills. It’s fun playing with one another. In the house, I think we do well. Everybody has their brothers’ quarrels. But, at the end of the day, we all love each other and are brothers.”

“Jaffer is outgoing, funny,” Levi said. “He’s always up. Sam is more laid back, I’d say. I think I’m the most extroverted of the three of us. I can carry on a long conversation with anyone.”

Oh, this is probably a good time to bring up another aspect to this story. Just seven months after that special April 10, 2006 date that brought Jaffer, Sam and Levi to Cedar Rapids, Maya Murphy got sick.

Turned out it wasn’t in a bad way. She was pregnant.

Daughter Rael is 12 years old and in seventh grade. She loves volleyball ... and her brothers.

“It’s definitely a challenge having three older brothers,” she said. “Most times it’s great. They treat me well, they protect me, and it’s great to be able to go watch them play their games.”

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“Yes, they love each other. Yes, they are close,” Maya Murphy said. “But they are honestly not as close as I’d hoped they would be. So we’ve had conversations recently about that and just life. I’ve seen it lately, especially with this quarantine, that it’s coming back around. But it ebbs and flows. It’s not like they are 100-percent perfectly tight knit.

“They are very unique and different, and each is their own. They get along great with Rael. When she was a baby, they were super protective ... Typical brother-sister where they can find her annoying. But they are also kind to her. They will take her, drive her, take her to get Starbucks because that is her favorite. They are really good to her. I never would have adopted three older boys sight unseen if I’d had a baby girl. I wouldn’t have. Yet they are great brothers to her.”

And this is one great, blended family. One that has hope beyond hope there will be a soccer season.

Not that soccer is the end all, be all, obviously. It’s not in this case.

Not at all.

“Just don’t write anything that we’re this perfect family, because, oh, my gosh, we aren’t,” Maya Murphy said. “It can be a struggle, other times it’s good. Sometimes it’s like ‘Man, I’m a great mother today.’ Other times, it’s like ‘I’m the worst mom ever.’ We’ve been blessed that no one has had any major issues. We’ve had some minor issues, done some therapy and some other stuff. But nothing more, really, than you might have with a biological kid.”

“It’s a great story on one end. Three kids left to their own devices growing up in Liberia (who) would probably be criminals on the street just out of trying to survive,” Sean Murphy said. “But, ultimately, we have been doubly blessed more than we have blessed them. They don’t maybe realize that they hit the lottery when they were adopted to come to the United States. But they are such good young men that we, Maya and I, think we hit the jackpot with those little guys. They are amazing young men. Have they made their mistakes? Absolutely. But their character and what they value is really high. We feel so blessed. We would do it 100 times again.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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