Alabama's kicker, 8-year-old boy bond over Polish heritage
TUPELO, Miss. (AP) It's not yet time for college football's national championship game, but 8-year-old Boone Murphree is already decked out in an Alabama hat and jersey, excitedly chattering away about the Crimson Tide's chances of winning a fifth national title in eight seasons on Monday.
''He wears that jersey at least twice a week,'' his mom, Amy, said with an eye roll.
A young Alabama fan is not uncommon in this part of the world, of course. The surprise is Boone's choice of jersey.
It's not one of the stars like quarterback Jalen Hurts, linebacker Reuben Foster or defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. It's kicker Adam Griffith.
''He's like my big brother,'' Murphree said with a wide smile.
Murphree and Griffith aren't actually relatives, but bonded over the past two years because of similarities in their life story. Both were adopted from Poland after spending a part of their childhood at an orphanage.
Griffith came to the U.S. when he was 13. Murphree when he was six.
''It's special to know that there are people out there making sacrifices to give a kid a life like my parents did for me,'' Griffith said on Saturday in Tampa, Florida. ''It's awesome. I'm glad they contacted me. You don't see that every day.''
Jim and Amy Murphree started the process of adopting Boone back in 2014. They had originally planned to adopt a child from the U.S., but when their adoption agency contacted them about a little boy from Poland, they were immediately smitten.
While the family was in the months-long adoption process of paperwork and meetings, Jim's father Bill was doing some yardwork while listening to the Ole Miss-Alabama game on the radio.
That's when he heard Griffith's story for the first time. The part-time lawyer decided to write a letter to Griffith's parents - Tom and Michelle - to see if there was a chance that Boone could meet Adam when he arrived.
The Griffiths, who are from Calhoun, Georgia, agreed and the first meeting was at Alabama's spring game in 2015, just weeks after Boone arrived in America. At first it seemed like an odd couple: Adam has a reserved personality while Boone was like many little boys, bouncing off the walls and talking nonstop.
But the connection was instant. Now the families keep in touch weekly.
''It was really amazing for all of us,'' Michelle Griffith said. ''They are an amazing family. Boone is hard to resist - very passionate.''
Said Amy Murphree: ''Adam has been so wonderful with Boone. A lot of college kids might be too cool to hang out with a little boy, but he's been so gracious with his time.''
Boone said his time spent with Adam is like what you'd do with a sibling. They might throw the football in the yard or practice kicking. They might mess around building things with Legos.
''We just play and hang out when he doesn't have a game,'' Murphree said.
But Jim Murphree said he believes the friendship is even more valuable than Boone realizes. Though he was young when he was in the orphanage, he still has plenty of memories from his early childhood that aren't necessarily the greatest.
Then he had to deal with an abrupt transition to a new life in an unfamiliar country. There was an initial language barrier.
But about a month after his arrival, he was at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, where he met Adam for the first time.
''I think it made the transition not so scary,'' Amy Murphree said. ''For Boone to be here a few weeks and then meet someone from Poland right away who has had success, it was just really comforting.''
Boone's already trying to follow Adam's football success. The second-grader played on a flag football team this fall called the Tupelo Bears. He enjoyed it, though there was one small problem: There were no kickers in the league. He settled for linebacker and running back instead.
The friendship means the Murphree's house - and especially Boone's room - is covered in Alabama memorabilia. It's a drawback Jim Murphree has learned to live with.
''For a Mississippi State fan,'' Murphree said laughing. ''That's a little tough to take.''
There's an Alabama photo montage of Griffith that hangs over Boone's bed and a newspaper article on the wall that explains Griffith's life story. There's a signed cleat that's on his dresser and an Alabama baseball.
Jim Murphree has tried to keep the Bulldogs in the picture and there are a few Mississippi State logos in the room. In a lighthearted moment, Jim asks Boone who his favorite team is now.
Jim winces because he already knows the answer.
''My favorite team is Alabama!'' Boone shouts, grinning.
Everyone laughs. Jim gives a little shrug: ''Hard to blame him.''
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this story.
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