Twinning is winning for UCLA with Grayson and Gabriel Murphy

Grayson Murphy knows what it’s like to go into the bathroom, look in the mirror and see a different version of yourself.

Because he’s right there.

This familiar face brushes their teeth together every morning, having always gotten up at the same time. The virtually indistinguishable couple will continue to eat the same breakfast, watch the same soccer practice, attend the same classes, do the same homework, and switch off at the same bedtime.

Grayson and Gabriel Murphy aren’t inseparable, they’re closer.

“I wouldn’t even say we’ve been apart 24 hours our entire lives,” Gabriel said.

Not everything about the twins is identical. Grayson has a slightly stockier build, as well as a small scar over his left eye. Gabriel’s curly hair was dyed a slightly darker shade of yellow, his mother was unable to duplicate the same shade between her sons.

UCLA's Gabriel (left) and Grayson Murphy take a break during practice August 18.

UCLA’s Gabriel (left) and Grayson Murphy take a break during practice August 18.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Still, an untrained eye can barely distinguish the UCLA Edge Rushers, who arrived last spring after relocating from North Texas. Coach Chip Kelly, always a lover of details, comes up with a plan to greet one of the twins when he sees him walking around campus without the other.

“Murph,” Kelly said when asked what he would say. “Murph works well.”

Kelly is seeing double these days because the twins refuse to walk alone. As second graders in high school, they reflected on how seldom they had been apart. The only time one attended a sleepover without the other was when the one left behind was grounded.

They made a pact. They would play together in college no matter what the cost. They told their high school coach not to even have conversations with coaches they wouldn’t accept as a package deal.

The decision had some unintended consequences. The twins wanted to play for a Power Five conference school but couldn’t find anyone willing to take them both.

“Oklahoma State would want one thing but not the other, TCU would want one thing but not the other,” recalled Charles Faucette, the former Chargers linebacker who coached the twins at Dallas Bishop Lynch High. “They both had offers to go to Power Five schools, but they weren’t dating, which made it so difficult.”

Part of the problem was their different positions at the time, Grayson playing the outside linebacker and Gabriel playing the inside linebacker pass rusher. Most colleges would have to fill one slot but not the other. Another problem was that the coaches thought that if one twin moved, the other would surely follow.

Their dilemma crystallized at a Christian camp in Texas, when a coach told the twins the team couldn’t take them both. In tears on the drive home, they called a coach from North Texas, a Group of Five school that had offered dual scholarships, to break the news: they were coming and showing everyone else what they were missing.

“It got emotional on the phone call,” Grayson said, “because becoming a Power Five and playing college football was always our dream, and it kind of upset us at the time because we knew we weren’t going to make it that way.” Dream becomes reality in this moment.”

“I wouldn’t even say we’ve been apart 24 hours our entire lives.”

– Gabriel Murphy

UCLA defensemen Grayson (12) and Gabriel (11) Murphy celebrate after a sack against Alabama State.

UCLA defensemen Grayson (12) and Gabriel (11) Murphy celebrate September 10 at the Rose Bowl after a sack against Alabama State.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

There was some comfort in her initial college choice. North Texas was about a 40-minute drive from their home in suburban Dallas, so they could fill laundry baskets with homemade meals and take them to campus every week.

It also kept her close to her parents, who had adored her since birth. Her dad Chris recalled thinking when his wife Shaunielle told him she was pregnant that a third wouldn’t be much more expensive as the couple already had two children. A few months later she called to say they were having twins.

“I figured back then,” Chris said, “well, I guess four won’t cost more than three.”

Grayson was born two minutes after Gabriel and there were complications with the birth of the second twin. The umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, Grayson not breathing. Nurses took him to another room for resuscitation.

Their names were Christian Gabriel and Christiano Grayson. Like their older siblings, who were also named in honor of their father, the twins would use their middle name to avoid confusion.

But sometimes even their parents couldn’t tell them apart. Shaunielle dressed them in identical outfits. Chris once punched the fake twin and later told him that the next time he misbehaved he would get a pass.

The only time they didn’t have the same schedule was as freshmen in high school. A counselor was concerned that the twins might terrorize their teachers and they really should be separated to make new friends.

When they were redshirt freshmen in North Texas, they were terrible quarterbacks. After rarely contributing linebacker, even in practice, they convinced a coach to let them play Edge Rusher on scout team early in the 2020 season.

In the next game, against Middle Tennessee State, Gabriel posted his first sack and Grayson picked up three quarterback rabbits and a tackle for loss. It was doubly difficult for the remainder of Conference USA, with the Twins forming All-Conference teams through the end of the following season.

North Texas Grayson (9) and Gabriel (11) Murphy celebrate after sacking UTSA quarterback Josh Adkins.

North Texas Grayson (9) and Gabriel (11) Murphy celebrate after sacking UTSA quarterback Josh Adkins November 27 in Denton, Texas.

(Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

But at the back of his mind was an enduring desire for great college football. They entered the transfer portal and this time pretty much everyone wanted them both. More than 30 offers were received from Power Five teams. Oregon State. Oklahoma. U.S.C. UCLA. Pennsylvania. The twins had their choice.

The Bruins had an early advantage when Outside Linebackers coach Ikaika Malloe, who had just returned from a recruiting trip to Southern California, boarded another plane to Dallas for a home visit. Malloe convinced the Twins of his vision of an offensive defense that could help the team compete for a Pac-12 championship.

Penn State nearly tipped their allegiance during a recruiting visit, but made a small, critical mistake. Among the school-issued clothing items shown to the twins was a coat several inches thick, reminding them of the brutal cold they would endure. They also inquired about the quality of the food and were essentially told it didn’t deserve Michelin stars.

Meanwhile, UCLA’s lavish buffet had sparked crushes from a trusted source in Cam Johnson, a former teammate for the North Texas twins who spent his final collegiate season in 2021 as a defenseman with the Bruins. They have been sold.

The only thing UCLA couldn’t offer was the No. 9, which Grayson preferred because it was taken, so he switched to No. 12. It was just another way to get closer to his brother, the No. 11 wore.

Twinning wins for the undefeated Bruins (3-0), thanks in part to the 6-foot-3, 262-pound freshmen, nicknamed the “Texas Two-Step” by linebacker Bo Calvert. They combined in one of the highlights — and mishaps — of the early season when Gabriel recovered a fumble against Alabama State and turned the ball over to Grayson for an apparent touchdown, only to have it called back for an illegal pass.

“I didn’t know I was throwing it forward,” said Gabriel, who lost his bearings. “We were just out there having fun.”

You’ll finally get to experience the big conference football on Saturday when UCLA takes on Colorado (0-3) in the Pac-12 opener in Boulder, a prelude to even bigger games against Utah, Oregon and USC. The twins intend to deal a second blow to the Trojans after spurning them for their Crosstown rivals.

“I’ve always wanted to go to UCLA, I’ll just say that,” Grayson said when asked how seriously he was considering USC.

Gabriel nodded and smiled. The feeling was mutual. Twinning is winning for UCLA with Grayson and Gabriel Murphy

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