In the history of the Stanford football program, it’s safe to say that Feb. 1, 2012 was a big day. Quite literally.
The fax machine in the Athletic Department offices roared at the outset of what had already promised to be an auspicious National Signing Day — and then it never stopped. When the dust finally settled and the last of the paperwork from every corner of the nation trickled in, the Cardinal had secured the fifth-best recruiting class in the nation and, in particular, one of the top offensive line hauls of all time, as nearly a ton of front line talent pledged its allegiance to the Tunnel Workers’ Union.
On Feb. 1, 2012, Stanford announced with authority that its physical brand of football was here to stay, but as the old saying goes, they don’t hand out trophies on Signing Day. While the seeds of Stanford’s 2015 conference-best juggernaut of an offense were planted on that day, the roots of the Cardinal’s present-day success smashing opponents at the line of scrimmage sprung from something that the screeches of that fax machine could never hope to capture: the deepest — and most violent — of friendships.
Standing at 6-foot-5, 321 pounds and 6-foot-7, 301 pounds, respectively, former five-star (according to Scout.com) recruits Joshua Garnett and Kyle Murphy joined five other Stanford linemen — Andrus Peat, Graham Shuler, Johnny Caspers, Nick Davidson and Brandon Fanaika — in forming this imposing Signing Day jackpot.
However, to hear it from Stanford’s players and coaches, it’s unclear if the Cardinal brought in six or seven commits on that day.
Garnett and Murphy, the Cardinal’s current starting left guard and left tackle, respectively, and roommates for the past three years, have, by all accounts, morphed into a single entity.
“They’re two peas in a pod,” remarked Shuler, the starting center alongside Murphy and Garnett. “We joke around that we’ve got a married couple on the offensive line.”
“Personality-wise, they are one soul,” noted offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren. “We joke all the time that they don’t need to make calls at the line because they can just use ESP.”
Garnett, for his part, is well-aware of the locker-room punchline.
“A lot of people make fun of me and Kyle given that we’re always together like we’re connected at the hip.”
But no inseparable duo is complete without an appropriate nickname, and Garnett and Murphy have that box checked and double-checked. The pair, which comprises arguably the most formidable left side of an offensive line in the nation, has been christened the “Bash Bros,” a clear homage to its reputation for decimating defensive fronts, though its origins may be less well-known.
“I hope they didn’t give themselves that moniker,” Bloomgren chuckled.
To their position coach’s relief, the Bash Bros label did not originate with Garnett or Murphy, but from athletic trainer Lee Martin, who coined the phrase that has slowly taken on a life of its own.
Garnett still recalls that fateful day in the training room with Martin.
“One day we came down to tape…and [Martin] goes, ‘Oh look, the Bash Bros are at it again,’ when we walked in together. We kind of just stuck with it.”
“It’s a humbling nickname,” Murphy added. “We both like to come off the ball and get in dudes a little bit, so this must mean we’re doing something right.”
Many would argue that the pair has done more than just something right this season. Behind Kevin Hogan and his 44 straight starts, the Bash Bros rank second with 27 each and have joined Hogan as offensive captains. The duo has led the resurgence of an offensive line that has paved the way for a rushing attack that ranks 20th in the nation at 222 yards per game while also keeping Hogan’s jersey clean, allowing less than a sack per game in the Cardinal’s last three outings.
Moreover, the individual accolades are beginning to roll in by the handful. Garnett, who unofficially leads the team in pancake blocks, has been named one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s most outstanding lineman on either side of the ball. Murphy, who took over at left tackle following the departure of Peat to the NFL, earned a spot on the Outland and Rotary Lombardi Award watch lists and, like Garnett, will likely receive serious consideration for All-America honors.
“What makes them so special is the way they finish and how violent they play,” Bloomgren said. “When they get the opportunity to work some double teams and they go 2-for-2 with both a defensive lineman and a linebacker on the ground, I bet people are like, ‘That’s not really what I want to be up against.’
“From what I’ve seen, they’re the best guard-tackle combo [in the nation].”
Despite the bushels of awards and praise launched their way, Murphy and Garnett have remained as steady and focused (and violent) as ever.
“That’s obviously our goal and our mindset when we come out here,” Murphy said. “We want to be the two baddest dudes out here. We like to play with that confidence and swagger. We kind of think that for our offense to perform at the highest level possible we have to be at our best. We put that pressure on ourselves…to get the job done.”
Out of the millions of high-schoolers who played football between 2002 and 2010, only 262 earned the coveted five-star recruiting rating from Rivals.com, yet fifty-five percent — more than half — of those 262 five-stars never heard their names called in the NFL draft.
On the other hand, Garnett and Murphy, two five-star recruits in their own right, look poised to play on Sundays after they hang up their cardinal and white jerseys at the end of the season.
While they certainly arrived on The Farm with prodigious talent and minutes upon minutes of high school highlight reels, their current success as top-tier professional prospects and captains of the 2015 squad was far from predestined. Shaw has observed that the Bash Bros have “grown tremendously [as leaders] over the past three and a half years,” a development that has a lot to do with how their friendship has molded each of them.
Coming into Stanford, it may not have been obvious that Murphy, a quiet, unassuming SoCal kid from San Clemente and Garnett, the loud, charismatic Puyallup, Washington native, would form a special bond. But, in turn, they have each rubbed off on each other over the years and, in the eyes of Bloomgren, have converged towards a singular personality — that of a wise, respect-demanding leader.
“I’ve had the opportunity to know these kids since they were 17-year-old kids in high school,” Bloomgren said, “and really have watched them grow tremendously and really come towards each other.”
“Kyle was very unassuming and not very talkative in high school whereas Josh was just the opposite — he was always kind of the life of the party…Now you see Josh be more reserved depending on the context and the situation and Kyle has the ability to talk and get loud when he needs to now.”
“Kyle’s not a big smack-talker but when game time comes, just to see that you see that switch in him, you’re like, ‘I don’t recognize this guy,’” Garnett added. “And he just gets real nasty and I think that’s awesome to see as his friend who lives with him. On game day, you get to see that different side of him.”
Of course, leadership is only a small piece of the puzzle, but the Bash Bros’ on-field improvements have matched their mental development every step of the way. Both credit their current successes to the opportunity to see the field as true freshmen in the role of extra linemen in the jumbo and ogre packages.
“It was a long time ago but seems like yesterday,” Murphy reminisced. “It was great to get that experience in tight games against USC and Notre Dame and get that experience in pressure situations even if it’s in a minimal role of 10-15 plays. It gets you ready to be a starter unfazed. Last year in the tight games…even though it was my first starting, I had that experience to lean on and could just focus on playing football.”
In his freshman and sophomore years, Murphy frequently lined up as a tight end in jumbo formations and, in just the third game of his career, had a ball thrown his way. Murphy also lined up as a decoy receiver this season against the Huskies, though he admits that his opportunities to make a play in the passing game are “probably past me.”
Garnett, meanwhile, saw a lot of action as a fullback in heavy set formations where he got his feet wet on the biggest of stages after “getting to hit Manti Te’o head up” as a true freshman.
Four years after seeing their first snaps, the Bash Bros have passed on their tackle-eligible 98 and 94 jerseys onto the next generation of young Tunnel Workers and have now wear their standard 51 and 78 jerseys full-time. With their Stanford careers soon to come to a close, they hope to go out with another Pac-12 championship while managing to prepare for the next chapter of their lives.
Murphy, who studies science, technology and society, hopes to one day enter the finance and business world, while Garnett is a pre-med human biology major taking a full course load this quarter while serving up pancakes on Saturday.
Off the field, Garnett also served as president of his freshman dorm, Twain, and continues to keep in touch with many of his old friends from freshman year. Despite being an old married couple, the Bash Bros can indeed detach from the hip when necessary.
“It’s been great to have friends outside of football,” Garnett said. “You get annoyed hanging out with these guys 24/7. I love Kyle but we can’t be around each other too much. We talk too much smack about FIFA.”
Come Saturday, though, the only recipients of Murphy and Garnett’s smack will be the USC Trojans lined up against them — a smack of the most literal and painful variety. As they team up on the left side for one of the last times, it will be the culmination of a long journey, the road from former top recruits to college stars who built a formidable front line — and an inseparable friendship — in the process.
At the home of intellectual brutality, the Bash Bros are the gatekeepers and, on Saturday night, they have a chance to cap off their careers the way it started: with a Pac-12 Championship.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.