NORTH CAROLINA — A quarterback sprinting 95 yards for a touchdown in the final minutes to help win a high school state championship is legendary on its own.
Guiding his team to its first North Carolina state title in more than 60 years is also impressive.
Especially when the team, just two years ago, won only one game and had barely enough players to fill a roster.
Especially when two years ago, the quarterback was constantly finding a new place to live and was really struggling in the classroom.
Braheam Murphy was a young man who was all but homeless, in need of some stability and guidance.
His new football coach, Sam Greiner, was getting to know Murphy and would often give him a ride home. But it was rarely to the same place.
“I didn’t know it at first. I didn’t know that Braheam didn’t have a home,” Greiner told CNN. “Eventually he just opened up to me. And he was like, ‘I have to stay with my sister from place to place.’ … And I didn’t know what to do at the time, so I go into my office and I’m thinking, something’s tugging at my heart.”
Greiner called his wife, Connie, and asked to have a guest for dinner who would need to stay the night. One night turned into two, and then it became a week. A week then became a month and eventually “Braheam just became a family member. He’s been living with us ever since.”
That was more than two years ago.
And since then, the coach with a huge heart has nurtured Murphy, helping him grow not only into a star athlete but also a star student with plans to attend the US Military Academy at West Point next year.
Tough times began early
When Murphy was 5, his mother had a fatal brain aneurysm.
His father remarried, but when he had a daughter who was born with cerebral palsy, the family situation became too challenging to care for three children. Murphy said he and his older sister didn’t fit with his stepfamily.
“My dad loves me, but he had to take care of my little sister, and I’d rather have my little sister being taken care of more than me,” Murphy told CNN.
Living in an unstable family situation and never quite sure where he would spend the night, Murphy said he and his older sister basically “couch-surfed.”
“A lot of times I’d stay at my friends’ houses,” Murphy said. “We’d go back and forth.”
Welcomed into the family
Murphy never talked about his circumstances — that is, until his coach inquired.
Now, they’ve known each for barely three years but call themselves family.
“He’s a family member of ours. I knew when I met the kid,” said Greiner. And his wife and their two small children, Charli and Journi, feel the same.
“They love him. That’s their brother. They don’t look at anything else — that’s their brother,” Connie Greiner said, smiling.
But for the Greiners, it finally felt official when the family needed to move and Connie Greiner insisted that they find a home with a bedroom for each child.
“I’ll never forget the day she says to me, ‘Hey, we need to look at these homes. It needs to be four bedrooms.’ … And I was like, she loves him,” the coach said.
Turnaround to a title
Harding University High School is in one of the poorest neighborhoods in West Charlotte.
Greiner took the school’s football team from an abysmal 1-10 record to a 14-1 season in just three years. In December, the Rams won the North Carolina 4-A state championship game, the school’s first title since 1953.
Murphy’s 95-yard touchdown came with less than two minutes remaining and sealed the 30-22 win. He was selected as offensive MVP of the title game.
His coach was emotional after the game.
“It was just an amazing experience. We knew we could get there, but the situation of winning the state championship … what we overcame,” Greiner said while choking back tears. “And it all came full circle. … Greatest moment ever to have your family experience that — it really was.”
Scoring in the classroom
But Murphy says it’s about more than being a football champion.
When he first met Greiner, Murphy had a 1.8 GPA.
“The athletic director comes to me and is like, ‘By the way, Braheam Murphy and some other guys are not eligible.’ And I was like ‘Braheam’s not eligible?’ I was blown away because he’s so smart,” Greiner recalled.
Murphy, who says football was his dream, was determined not to be sidelined after missing that season.
“I just know that when I have someone caring for me, I feel like it makes me do better in school and makes me want to do better in life,” he said.
Since moving in with the Greiner family, Murphy upped his GPA to a 3.7.
He said everything that has happened — his better grades, finding a home and a new family, winning state — fell into place thanks to his faith in God.
Murphy’s turnaround is a success story that Greiner, who was selected as the state coach of the year, hopes other Harding players emulate.
“I think when they look at Braheam, it’s just pure evidence that you can overcome if you strive and believe,” Greiner said.
Murphy’s leadership skills will play a crucial role in his next step in life.
“The Academy is the best place for me,” he told CNN. “Everything that I went through in the past, I felt like it will set me up to do good in that environment, you know?”
The Greiners admit that seeing Murphy go off to college will be bittersweet.
“He’s doing a ‘family-tree changer.’ I never had an opportunity to go to West Point. He’s better than me. Connie is now trying to go to college, get her career in order. Maybe one day, we’ll be working for our own son,” Greiner beamed.
Murphy said his older sister graduated and moved in with her boyfriend. He still sees her regularly and she sometimes spends the holidays with him at the Greiners’ home.
He also maintains a relationship with his biological father and little sister. They even made it out to cheer for him at his Senior Night football game.
Murphy said his father tells him he is proud of the man he is becoming.
As are the Greiners.
Thinking about his past three years, Murphy gets emotional. Of the Greiners, he said, “They’re my family. And I can’t imagine where I would be without their support.”