Story by Blake Sandlin, Assistant Sports Editor
It’s been 278 days since quarterback KD Humphries played his last football game in the navy and gold.
Since then, many Racer fans have been asking the same million-dollar question: Who’s taking his place?
That question was answered Wednesday, when Murray State announced junior quarterback Shuler Bentley as the starter for the season opener against Kentucky Wesleyan next week.
Even though the team’s last-minute change might seem like a reluctant measure, Head Coach Mitch Stewart said the delay was a result of the quality of players in the running.
“I feel great about the quarterback position,” Stewart said. “The good thing about the quarterback spot is I just have so much to choose from. This is the best I’ve been and the deepest I’ve been at the quarterback position, where I’m not just relying on one guy, and if he goes down then the ship is sunk.”
Bentley, a Division I transfer from Old Dominion University, played in 11 games over two seasons with the Monarchs, throwing for 1498 yards in those games.
Another key area in the Racers backfield that needs to be addressed is the establishment of an efficient run game, a clear issue last season with the team finishing last in the OVC in rushing offense. Stewart said he has placed an increased emphasis on the ground game over the offseason as a result, admitting it’s paramount to offensive success.
“We’ve just made an emphasis of it,” Stewart said. “You’ve got to be careful when you do that because you want it to be balanced. If you can’t run it, you can’t throw it, and if you can’t throw it, you can’t run it.”
For any potential shortcomings in the backfield, the Racer’s defensive secondary is poised to pick up the slack, at least according to senior linebacker Lamont Crittendon.
“I expect for our secondary to be one of the best secondaries in the country,” Crittendon said. “We’ve got so many players back there. We’ve got guys that can play any position in the secondary. We’ve got Dylan Boone that can come down and play a high safety and come down and a play a nickel linebacker. We’ve got a couple guys like that.”
Returning for the defense is junior defensive back D’Montre Wade, who was first in the OVC in passes defended, averaging 1.64 per game to go along with a combined three interceptions on the year. Another key player is senior defensive back Zachary Wade, who recorded four fumble recoveries and finished fourth in the OVC in tackles with a season total of 90 last year.
The Racers have nine defensive starters and eight offensive starters returning to the field this season, an asset that Crittendon said should trickle down to the newcomers.
“I think this team is a lot more mature, and you would expect that when you have so many returning players from last season,” Crittendon said. “So I think the young guys that come in definitely take note of that, they see the standard of how things are, and that definitely helps our team as a whole.”
As for Stewart, who is entering his third season at the helm for Murray State, he’s seen a noticeable difference in his team’s performance on the field as they know what’s expected of them.
“The biggest advantage is just how they practice,” Stewart said. “When you’ve got returners, they know how you want to practice, and that’s usually the hardest thing. It allows you to do things in practice that with a young team, you wouldn’t be able to do.”
The team has also welcomed a surplus of transfers to the program. Players like junior defensive backs Rico McGraw, transfer from the University of Georgia, and Jason Johnson, transfer from Western Kentucky University comprise a loaded group of players looking to aid the Racers in constructing a successful campaign.
Murray State will look to improve on a 4-7 year that ended in disappointment with a 55-19 loss against Tennessee Tech. The Racers will kick-off their season next week at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31 when they host Kentucky Wesleyan College. While the Racers are merely facing a Division II school, Crittendon said they’ll be treating it the same as they would a Division I Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.
“We just want to be the best that we can be week in and week out,” Crittendon said. “We’re going to prepare how we prepare. We’re going to prepare for Kentucky Wesleyan just as hard as we’re going to prepare for Louisville. We just want to be the best team that we can be.”