HUGHSON Body Text Hughson High sophomore Billy Murphy has been a wrestler for 11 of his 16 years.
As the state's No. 2-ranked wrestler in the 125-pound weight class, he's in control almost every time he's on the mat. It's his comfort zone.
Lately, Murphy has been comfortable off the mat, too.
It's been a long road for Murphy, one that has seen him lose both of his parents and living with several families before finding a new home at the LaGrange ranch of Doug and Vicki Porter.
Murphy will lead a group of 26 Stanislaus District wrestlers into this weekend's CIF State Wrestling Meet at Bakersfield's Centennial Gardens. He's got a realistic chance at winning a state title.
It's a dream he and his mother, Kathy Lederle, shared as he was growing up in Turlock and, later, Ceres.
"We used to talk about me being the first four-time state champ," Murphy said. "Then Darrell Vasquez won four, but our goal never changed."
His mother battled several health problems, including high blood pressure, and died of a stroke in April of 2001. Murphy was 13.
He moved to the Southern California town of Cathedral City to be with his father, William Murphy, later that year, and spent 12 months in Cathedral City. As a freshman at Cathedral City High School during November of 2002, he was 16-0.
Then his father was arrested, a third-strike felony of grand theft, and he's now incarcerated in Chino. Murphy immediately moved back to Ceres to live with an aunt and uncle in 2003, but that only lasted six months.
Because he competed for Cathedral City, he wasn't allowed to wrestle for the remainder of his freshman season. There were more pressing issues as well.
"I was too much for (his aunt and uncle)," Murphy said. "They opened their home to me and I'll always be grateful, but there were (five) kids living there, and I was the oldest. It was too much."
He moved in with his brother and guardian, Hughson's Charlie Loudermilk, for about three months. But Murphy became too big for that home as well.
"They were newlyweds, and expecting a baby," Murphy said. "It was just too much with me."
Loudermilk asked the Porters if they would be willing to take care of Murphy. Doug Porter is Loudermilk's pastor at Hickman Community Church.
Vicki Porter wondered how it would work out in the beginning.
"He came to us with such a tough background," she said. "But he's such a good kid. He has such strong character qualities. He's very genuine."
Doug said it didn't take long for Murphy to become part of the family.
"He came to us in November, and he's been a really good fit," said Doug Porter, also a Hughson assistant wrestling coach. "We've grown to love him. He's just a good kid who had a tougher life than most."
Murphy moved in, and found more structure than he had ever dealt with before.
"I had rules before, but not like I have it now," Murphy said. "I have chores, it's more of a schedule in my life. Plus, I'm staying really busy with wrestling."
His chores include gathering firewood, keeping the driveway clear with the leaf blower, and pulling tules from their pond.
It didn't take Murphy long to fit in.
"I started calling them Mom and Dad out of respect," Murphy said. "But after awhile, I really started meaning it.
"When I talk with my brother (Loudermilk), I tell him, 'I know what you really mean when you call somebody 'Dad.'"
Murphy has become involved with the Porters' church, and helps the Hughson Wrestling Club youth program as well.
In Hughson's wrestling room on Monday, he talked with nearly every youngster who came in. They were immediately drawn to him.
"It's probably because he's not much bigger than they are," Doug Porter joked. "He really has a way with kids. We've talked about him possibly becoming a teacher."
Vicki, an English teacher at Hickman Middle School agrees.
"He really enjoys kids," Vicki said. "He's only a sophomore, but he's really goal-oriented. He wants to get a scholarship and go to college."
GROWING UP YOUNG
In some ways, Murphy is the oldest 16-year-old you'll ever meet.
"Billy had to raise himself at a young age," said Hughson's head wrestling coach, Kyle Porter, Doug's son. "He had to grow up in a hurry."
He picked up odd jobs when he could when he was with his mother, and he worked on some construction sites while living with his father.
But in other ways, he's still a kid.
"He's had to be an adult," Vicki said. "But now he doesn't have to do that. He can just be a kid with us."
Doug noticed one childhood fear when Murphy went out to run at night.
He wouldn't leave the lights of the house, running in 200-yard stretches, then turning around and doing it again.
"He doesn't seem to like the dark," Doug Porter said.
So Porter has been driving him a couple miles away from their ranch, and follows him back in.
Murphy also talks eagerly of getting his driver's license in June. He turned 16 on Jan. 20, and pesters Porter to let him drive home from practices.
A COMPLETE PERSON
There is now more to his life than wrestling. He's always been nice, but his new family has led to an even happier Murphy.
"You won't run into a nicer kid," Kyle Porter said. "At the section quarterfinals, Billy and his opponent rolled off the mat and into a lady, knocking her down. Billy stopped and completely forgot about the match and went to help her up."
He's so nice, said Doug Porter, that they have to tell him to sometimes be more aggressive on the mat.
"We like to say he's Billy the Kid," Doug Porter said. "Billy the Kid is alive and well in LaGrange."
While wrestling was of the utmost importance for Murphy in the past, he now has other things in his life.
He's says he's got friends in wrestling teammates Cory Borges and Aaron Mendenhall, a great girlfriend in Jackie Cosgrove and a new dedication to church.
"It won't be the end of the world if I lose at state," Murphy said. "I wrestle my best, and that'll be enough.
"I couldn't have said that a few years ago. Wrestling was all I had."
But it's still important.
"We were talking at the dinner table after sections," Doug Porter said. "And I told him that if his mother was there, he could have heard her yelling."
Murphy teared up at that.
"My mom used to tell me to 'go get the job done,' before every tournament," Murphy said. "I tell myself that before every match.
"I'm doing all of it for my real mom, and my parents now."
Billy the Kid is alive and well in LaGrange indeed.
Staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at 578-2300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.