Story by Mark McFarland, Assistant Sports Editor
The Racer football program has gone to great lengths to make up for the players that were lost this offseason by adding the biggest recruiting class in recent memory.
“We lost an awful lot of seniors this year,” said Head Coach Mitch Stewart. “We did do some things though. We did move the roster a pretty good bit, and obviously that is the reason why I had so many scholarships to give.”
The Racers graduated 21 players off of last season’s roster. They also lost six players to transfer, seven players for other reasons and defensive lineman Elijah Daniel to the NFL draft.
Stewart and the coaching staff brought in 28 new recruits, 23 coming from high school and the other five transferring from junior colleges. Stewart has eight more scholarships to give out and said he hopes to give them out this spring.
“The biggest challenge that you have when dealing with that many numbers is trying to fill all of them,” Stewart said. “A lot of times when you are dealing with 28 scholarships, then you wind up taking somebody that you’re kind of lukewarm on just because you know you have a spot. I think that was the best thing we did was we steered clear of that.”
The Racers have four pillars Stewart has set up for the team to follow: play hard, have fun, earn the right to win and respect women.
The fourth pillar is new to the team this year. Stewart said he wanted to implement it because of how big of a problem it has become among professional and collegiate athletes.
“Just because our guys understand if you put your hands on a woman, you’re done, you’re gone,” Stewart said. “There is no if, ands, buts, no suspension and that kind of stuff.”
Murray State signed the biggest class in Kentucky and the biggest signing class in the OVC. After finishing with a total of three wins overall and two wins in the conference, Stewart said this new class brings some athleticism and talent, as many of the signees were multi-sport athletes in high school.
“I like multi-sport athletes just because he (the athlete) likes being coached all the time,” Stewart said. “When you’re a guy who plays sport after sport after sport, that means you have no problem, most of the time, you have no problem getting coached because you’re going to be around coaches coaching you all the time.”
The Racers have been building a recruiting house, as Stewart calls it, with the way the coaching staff looks at the players. Stewart said that they take three simple ways of evaluating a player and make their decision based on how well the athletes meet their requirements. Stewart said the three things the staff recruits are off-the-field character, on-the-field character and ability.
“All of those things are evaluated separately,” Stewart said. “No one bleeds into another, and we say that if you recruit those three things you are kind of building a recruiting house.”
Stewart said that he gets into the house and sees how the player treats his family, which tells him a lot about what the player is like.
With new faces coming into the program this fall the issue of Murray State’s off-the-field issues have disseminated.
Some Racers had some trouble last season and into the offseason with their off-the-field character. Zeke Pike, former University of Louisville and Auburn University quarterback was removed early in the season due to issues off the field. As of Jan. 8 roman Clay was suspended from all team-related activities after being involved in an incident out-of-state. Clay is currently on the 2016 football roster. Stewart said he and the coaching staff helped some of the other players transfer who may have been involved in issues not related to football.
“We moved the roster a good bit,” Stewart said. “That’s the reason we had so many scholarships to give. We tried to get rid of anybody who was not throwing their rock. Anybody who was not doing the things they needed to do to become an expert at their position, we helped them transfer and move their careers somewhere where they could do those things.”
Stewart said Pike made some questionable decisions, which ultimately led to his removal from the team.
Clay played at Kent State his freshman year before transferring to Murray State at the start of his sophomore year.
“With some of the things that have happened, there were some bad decisions being made and possibly even some bad character choices,” Stewart said. “So now you no longer have that in the building. All of these things help you as a team because now your young guys are the most influenced in your program.”
Director of Athletics Allen Ward wrote in an email statement that Stewart’s recruiting classes will go a long way towards solidifying the foundation of the program.
“This is another good step in the right direction for our football program,” Ward wrote. “It’s not a matter of time as it is a process for me. Quick fixes typically don’t work and set a program behind.”
He said he’d like to see this year’s class along with last years play as redshirts to continue the groundwork for a solid program.
Graduating senior Justin “Pokey” Harris said that he thinks a lot of the new faces will be either redshirts or will have a big role with the team.
“They got a lot of receivers; they got a lot of playmakers,” Harris said. “Last year we had a lot of our playmakers that actually left so I feel like he had to go out there and recruit some more.”
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Elijah Daniels was removed from the team for questionable decisions. That is not correct. The article also stated that “Clay played at Kent State before transferring to Murray State at the start of last season.” That is also incorrect. Last season was Clay’s second season as Murray State. The News regrets the errors.