Down in Mobile on Dauphin Street lies Murphy High School, home of the Panthers. The football program at Murphy has been a staple of consistency, making the playoffs 35 times since 1970. However, they have not won a state championship since 1983 with two other state finals appearances in 1989 and ’90. Not since that 1990 squad has Murphy had a defense as talented as the past three years. That unit has been spearheaded by Neil Farrell on the line and Kendric Haynes with the linebackers.
The two started the get noticed in their sophomore seasons in 2014. While the Panthers went 7-3 and finished fourth in Region 1 of the first year for Class 7A, Murphy held teams to 19.9 points a game and lost to Central-Phenix City by just six points in the first round of the playoffs.
Haynes was named to the Second Team All-State Defense after finishing the season with 130 tackles. Over the offseason, he received offers from Kentucky, Louisville, LSU, South Carolina, Troy and Southern Miss. Farrell received offers from many of the same teams like Kentucky, South Carolina, Troy, and Southern Miss along with Middle Tennessee.
Heading into 2015, the Panthers were looked at as a region title contender following the #9 ranking at the end of 2014 and the same position in the preseason. Through seven games, Murphy posted a 5-2 record and were up to #7 heading into their “Battle for the Cannon” rivalry with McGill-Toolen.
The Jackets were having a banner year coming off a 4-6 campaign in 2014. McGill was 6-1 and ranked ninth. Both teams were unbeaten in region play, and the winner was likely to win the region crown. Adding to the heated antics of both schools in the days leading up, Murphy was looking to win at Lipscomb Stadium for the first time since its opening in 2008. However, a string of four touchdowns in three minutes during the first quarter helped springboard McGill to a 35-28 victory despite a late charge from the Panthers.
Murphy closed the season out with wins over Fairhope and Alma Bryant heading into the playoffs as eighth in the state and the second seed in Region 1 with a home game against Lee-Montgomery. However, Henry Ruggs III and the Generals knocked off the Panthers 37-21 to disappoint the Murphy faithful. The Panthers also gave up an average of 21.2 points throughout the season, an increase from 2014.
All the while, Farrell and Haynes continued to show their talents, earning each a spot on the All-State teams. Farrell would be named to the First Team while Haynes once again made it on the Second Team.
The 2016 season would be the senior years for Farrell and Haynes, and they along with returning quarterback Maurice Robinson were in search of a region title and a deep playoff run. However, with McGill-Toolen looming in the second game of the year, Robinson was suspended for missing a team practice earlier in the week. To make matters worse, backup Russell Snider was sick heading into the game, so Murphy used third-string Darnell Thomas. McGill disposed the shorthanded Panthers 43-0.
Murphy’s woes continued as they lost the next two games, both in region play to Mary G. Montgomery and Baker. With their season on the line, the Panthers won five of their last six by an average of 6.2.
The season highlight was a 21-20 win over Foley in which Farrell sacked Lions quarterback Chris Armstrong on a two-point conversion attempt with no time left in the game. That win was the first of four region wins, good enough to snatch the four seed in Region 1 in a tiebreaker with Theodore and Mary Montgomery. However, Murphy would once again lose in the first round of the playoffs in a 56-7 drubbing by Central-Phenix City. Once again, Farrell was named to the All-State First Team and Haynes named to the Second Team.
Heading into the final stages of recruiting, Farrell and Haynes had attracted plenty of eyes and offers. Haynes finished his career with Murphy as a four-year starter with 412 tackles, including 96 along with 15 for loss, three sacks, and an interception in his senior season. Farrell’s senior year ended with 101 tackles, 28 for loss, 13 sacks, and 14 QB hurries.
With offers from Auburn, Kentucky, LSU, South Carolina, Louisville, and Minnesota on the table, Haynes decided to stay close to home and signed with South Alabama. With plenty of young outside linebackers returning on the roster, Haynes will have to work his way to a starting spot but has a chance to become a starter perhaps midway through his freshman season. It’ll also be interesting to see how Haynes’ shoulder looks after harboring an injury through his senior season for which he wore a protective brace. He should be a staple for the Jags in due time as they look to improve on their 6-6 season and the program’s second bowl game appearance.
Meanwhile Farrell, who had committed to LSU in July, decided after a late push from Florida State and USC that he would sign with the Bayou Bengals, joining Spanish Fort’s Justin Thomas to add to LSU’s defensive front. With three fifth-year seniors on LSU’s line, Farrell won’t see the field barring injury or blowouts particularly since he won’t be enrolled until the fall. Still, most of the line is young after the three seniors so it’s possible Farrell will be a contributor by the 2018 season. LSU finished 2016 8-4 with a bowl win over Louisville and a #13 ranking.