Story by Mark McFarland, Sports Editor
With a 3-8 finish last season, the Murray State football team will begin tracking a path of retribution Sept. 3, and the University of Illinois is in their path.
The Racers made multiple changes in the offseason, introducing 30 new players throughout the recruiting process. Senior defensive Toby Omli from Brookville, Kansas, said being a junior college transfer last year will help him be a better leader for the new junior college transfers coming in this year.
“I try to really connect to those guys early on,” Omli said. “You know, when you get to Murray for the first time it’s a great atmosphere, but at the same time, you don’t really know anybody. So I try to be an early contact for those guys.”
Omli also said Head Coach Mitch Stewart and the rest of the coaching staff do a great job of helping the new guys settle in and feel welcome.
Stewart is in his second year as the head coach for Murray State and said he has learned some valuable lessons from his first season.
“You have to find time to workout because you gain a lot of weight being a head coach,” Stewart said. “You better find some time to create and hold onto your sanity because there are a lot of different things pulling at you at one time.”
After a large chunk of wide receivers graduated from last year’s roster, senior quarterback KD Humphries from Montgomery, Alabama, will be shooting for different targets than he was last season.
“Coach says never pass up an open receiver. Throw it to the guy with my color jersey on; that’s where we are going to start,” Humphries said.
With the wide variety of new faces, the team still remains a close-knit group and consists of the senior leadership on the team, led by Omli and Humphries. With a small group of seniors, Humphries and Omli both said they feel the leadership is stronger than ever.
“I feel like we have some great leaders on this football team, that’s going to make a heck of a lot of difference,” Humphries said. “You know guys that are going to hold each other accountable and hold other players accountable.”
Humphries said when he went to the Peyton Manning passing camp he really wanted to focus on being a better listener so he could better lead the team. Humphries added he had a great experience and learned not only a lot about football, but about himself as a player and a leader.
The Racers return a spark at the wide receiver position, senior Jesse Blackburn. Blackburn was named to the preseason All-OVC team this offseason and Humphries could only say one word about his presence on the field, “Playmaker.”
The Racers will play five home games during their 11-game schedule. They will host conference games against Missouri State, Southeast Missouri State, UT Martin, Tennessee State and Jacksonville State.
The SEMO game will be played on ESPN3 as it is part of the partnership between ESPN and the OVC.
Murray State’s opener is Sept. 3 at Illinois. The team will come home the following week for a 6 p.m. game Sept. 10 at Roy Stewart Stadium. The Racers will face Missouri Valley Conference opponent Missouri State.