Leadership is an important factor this season for a relatively young Racer team.
The team voted six captains, seniors C.J. Bennett, Drew Kelley, Perry Cooper, Anthony Hayes and juniors Jeremy Harness and Shawn Samuels-Connell, to lead it this year.
Defensive back Samuels-Connell from Bainbridge, Ga., tries to lead the team by example on and off the field.
“One of the really nice things about being the captain is that you get to set the tempo,” Samuels-Connell said. “I try to tell everybody, ‘Do what you gotta do and be there for the team.’”
As the team has prepared for the upcoming season, Samuels-Connell thinks it has really learned the playbook and is working well together. A lifelong football fan and player, he strives to stress the importance of responsibility to his teammates. His prediction for the upcoming season, if the Racers do what’s needed and rise to the occasion, they should have a close to undefeated season.
“I’ve been playing since the seventh grade; football means a lot to me,” Samuels-Connell said. “It’s made me responsible in life and has really made me a better man. Leadership is one of the most important components of a successful team.”
According to Samuels-Connell, not only do the Racers have to show up to practice, they need to go to school, get good grades and take care of everything off the field. When they show up to practice he said they should be on time and be ready to work.
Senior captain and linebacker Hayes agrees wholeheartedly with Samuels-Connell, that leading by example is something every good captain should do.
Hayes is one of the 13 seniors being honored for Senior Day during the season home opener.
The linebacker thrives under pressure-oriented situations.
Football has always been an important component of Hayes’ life. His big brother also played and inspired him to keep playing.
“I love how football really challenges you,” Hayes said. “The more times you get knocked down the more times you have to get back up. We want to play the best we can and win every game.”
Although game plans change and each opponent is different, Hayes said he likes to think of them as a faceless opponent. Every down the team plays should be the best they have played if they want to consistently win, he said.
Some challenges the Racers have been overcoming in practice have been dealing with adversity, Hayes said, and becoming a more unified team.
The increased humidity and heat over the last few weeks has also taken a toll on some of the players. The Racers’ coaching staff has been scheduling practices with great care and making sure the team is in tip-top shape for the home opener.
This season marks Hayes’ second year as captain. The linebacker has been eating, sleeping and breathing football all summer. Many of the players, including Hayes, stayed in Murray over the break for off-season workouts.
“When things get tough, the tough get going,” Hayes said. “The most important thing for a team to really be successful is to have great unity and cohesion. Don’t ever point the finger at other players. Rather play each play together and do what is necessary.”
Senior captain and linebacker Cooper recognizes what an honor it is to be nominated as a captain. He and his fellow captains recognize the responsibility and faith the coaching staff places upon the six captains.
Football legacy runs deep in the Cooper family. His grandfather coached for the Minnesota Vikings offensive line for nearly thirty years. In addition to his career at Murray State, Cooper played for the University of Las Vegas for three years.
“I’m very blessed by the opportunity I’ve been given to play for Murray State,” Cooper said. “This upcoming season I have very high regards and predictions. Undoubtedly, we have some challenges with losing a bunch of seniors. Overall, I’ve really been satisfied how the guys have been dedicating themselves throughout fall camp and setting up their positions.”
Although the team has many transfers and incoming freshmen, Cooper said they’ve been filling in the holes and working hard to take up the large roles.
Team chemistry is an important factor in a successful team, Cooper said. No matter what, the guys are there for each other on and off the field. It doesn’t matter how talented a team is if it can’t be stick together.
“There will be good times and there will be bad times, and you have to take it all with a grain of salt,” Cooper said. “As captain, you’ve got to try to keep a level head no matter what is going on, be consistent and maintain a good attitude. Prepare everyday like you’re going to be the best.”
Story by Laura Kovarik, Contributing writer