Story by Mallory Tucker, Staff writer.
The Racers look to close out their fall camp tomorrow with a third and final scrimmage, and suspense is building with the first game less than two weeks away.
Set to kick off against Kentucky Wesleyan Sept. 3, Murray State football is hoping the fans see major changes both on the field and in their gameday experience.
“Any time you get a new coach, I think that there’s some buzz just because it’s new and it’s fresh,” former offensive coordinator and first year Head Coach Mitch Stewart said. “I was told at OVC Media Day: People like winners, and they like beginners. Right now, I’m a beginner. Everybody’s kind of fired up about what’s going on, but the fact of the matter is we’ve got to go out on Saturdays–or on Thursdays that first week–and perform. If we can do that, and we get a little bit of confidence about us, I really think this bunch can do some big things.”
On the field, Stewart hopes an up-tempo defense headed by defensive coordinator Chris Boone can complement the fast-paced offense quarterbacked by redshirt junior KD Humphries.
“Those guys, they challenge me every day,” Humphries said of the defense. “It gets tougher and tougher everyday. The new defensive installs – they’re putting in some stuff that I never saw. Even as a whole offense, we never saw.”
Many are looking at junior linebacker Jonathan Jackson to lead the defense once again in the 2015-16 season.
Leading OVC in tackles with 12.2 per game last season and ranking fourth overall in the FCS, Jackson was named to the 2015 Pre-season All-OVC team, pre-season All-American by Instant Scouting and pre-season All-American by Phil Steele.
“He’s sideline to sideline, I’ll tell you that,” Humphries said. “If I’m throwing to the right, Jonathan’s to the right. If I’m throwing to the left, Jonathan’s to the left. Even if I’m running down the middle, Jonathan’s there. He’s just an all-around player. He hustles. He gives 110 percent.”
Off the field, Stewart and Humphries expect fans to experience a completely new gameday atmosphere.
With a new student section named “The Winners Circle” set to grace the middle of the bleachers at Roy Stewart Stadium and a DJ to accompany the band at games, Stewart is looking to see an increase in tailgating and fan attendance while knowing that wins are what will keep fans coming back week in and week out.
As the players add class to their already-hectic practice schedule, Stewart is attempting to keep them focused on the grind by changing things.
“The biggest thing that you’re fighting is they’re just tired of beating up on one another,” Stewart said. “They’re tired of seeing the same plays. This week, we kind of split our practices up with scouts. We already talked to some kids about some redshirting and scout team work. So that helps a little bit, because now you get to focus on some personnel’s and some looks that we can’t give them. Just to kind of break up the monotony of it.”
Humphries said he feels the excitement on campus as suspense builds for the season opener. Seeing posters, football apparel and knowing that the coaching staff is getting antsy for gameday keeps him motivated as he prepares for a season full of firsts including everything from the coaching staff to the turf. Stewart is the youngest head coach in Division I football, and he plans to take full advantage of that in his inaugural season.
“The good thing that I have right now is that I’m pretty young and I’m pretty dumb,” Stewart said. “I haven’t done this before. Nobody really knows what to expect. I plan to use that to my advantage. We’re going to take some chances and we’re going to let it all hang out. I’m not a conservative person whatsoever. I don’t know if that’ll be different from years past, but I can tell you that if conservative is what you’re looking for.”