Story by Bryan Edwards, Staff writer
The Murray State football program celebrated National Signing Day on Wednesday, welcoming 26 new recruits to the 2017 class of Racers.
The Racers finished the 2016 season with a 4-7 record. Head Coach Mitch Stewart knew what he needed to aim for in the offseason to invigorate his team.
“We needed to target a quarterback to try to get someone to fill in KD [Humphries]’ spot,” Stewart said. “We wanted to get more speed on the field on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively. The other big target was the offensive line. We wanted to bring some lineman in and so far I think we’ve done that.”
Stewart said his decision-making process when recruiting players comes down to three things.
“We have kind of a three-tier system, kind of like building a house,” Stewart said. “The foundation is the off the field character. So, how does he treat his mom? Is he a good citizen? A good person? Those types of things.”
Stewart then expanded on his analogy, again emphasizing the personalities of the recruits he looks at.
“The body of the house is the on the field character,” Stewart said. “Does he work hard, does he watch film, does he try to get better? We feel if those two things are solid, that’s how you build that house. His ability is the ceiling. If the kid can play, he will only see that ability out so high if his foundation stinks.”
Prior to National Signing Day, Stewart was able to convince five players to bring their talents to Murray State. Offensive lineman J.R. Burns of Northwest Community College and defensive end Kenney Wooten of Itawamba Community College were among the first transfer players to join the 2017 class.
Shuler Bentley, a redshirt junior quarterback from Old Dominion, and Preston Rice, an early graduate quarterback from Wayne County High School also made decisions to join the Racers. University of Georgia defensive back Rico McGraw made the commitment to transfer to Murray State, joining his brother, sophomore Mareio McGraw.
Stewart said the addition of these players so early in the year is beneficial because of the added experience the players get during spring football.
“Obviously it helps getting them in in the spring because they’re going to have a little more time rather than bringing them in in the summer, so I feel good about that,” Stewart said.
On National Signing Day, Murray State gained a plethora of incoming recruits to the class of 2017. The lineman signees included Shane Walker, from Bartlett, Illinois, Austin Daulton, from Burnside, Kentucky, Jacob Vance, from Prospect, Kentucky, Davian Phillips, from Cadiz, Kentucky, Mitch Ponder, from Glasgow, Kentucky, Jaquez Hill, from Pleasant Grove, Alabama, Keilan Rooks, from Dresden, Tennessee, and Levi Nesler, from Mayfield, Kentucky.
The Racers picked up a field of receivers as well, signing Rodney Castille, from Humboldt, Tennessee, Austin Thomas, from Dresden, Tennessee, Alec Raboin, from Mattoon, Illinois, Corey Jones, from Memphis, Tennessee, Dequan Dallas, from Memphis, Tennessee, CJ Henagan, from Hopkinsville, Kentucky and Kylan Martin, from Humboldt, Tennessee.
The team also signed a group of running backs to add some depth to their roster. DJ Penick, from Highland Park, Illinois, Christian Ballard, from Jackson, Tennessee and Trajon Bright, from Mayfield, Kentucky were among those signed on Wednesday.
Stewart made some improvements to his secondary, signing several defensive backs, including Tristan Bonnstetter, from Jackson, Tennessee, Qmond Woods, from McComb, Mississippi, Don Parker, from Hopkinsville, Kentucky and Juwon Hayes-Keyes, from Mt. Olive, Mississippi.
Other recruits who signed with the Racers include Jeremy Bumpus, from Union City, Tennessee, Chandler Moody, from Brentwood, Tennessee, Colin Boyd, from Springfield, Illinois and Corey Newbie, from Jackson Tennessee.
With the addition of these new signees, Stewart hopes to propel his team to the best they can be when they take the field later in the year.
“Our big thing here with our staff that we talked about is that we don’t want to be better,” Stewart said. “We’re tired of the word better. We don’t want to be like, ‘Well we’re getting better’, we want to be the best.”