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Murray State raring to roll into season
Chris Hatcher: “We want to be No. 1. That’s what you play for.”
Murray State won’t sneak up on anybody this time.
The Racers, picked to finish last in the Ohio Valley Conference in 2010, shocked everyone by going 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the league, their first winning season since 2004. Now expectations are ratcheted up.
Murray received four first-place votes in the OVC coaches’ poll and was picked second behind Jacksonville State. The Racers have 19 returning starters, 10 on offense, including the preseason OVC Offensive Player of the Year in junior quarterback Casey Brockman. They also have second-year coach Chris Hatcher, who won the 2004 NCAA Division II title at Valdosta State.
“I want to be No. 1 all the time,” said Hatcher, who took over a team that finished 3-8, 2-6 in 2009. “Last year I played up being picked last in the conference to our favor. But with all our success that we had at Valdosta State, we want to be No. 1. That’s what you play for. I’m disappointed we aren’t the No. 1-ranked team.”
Much of the optimism centers around Brockman, who has developed from a walk-on with no Division I scholarship offers to perhaps the most dangerous player in the league. He accumulated eye-popping statistics (an OVC-record 570 passing yards and record-tying seven TDs against Missouri State) and went 5-1 down the stretch as a starter, the sole loss a 28-21 decision at Eastern Kentucky.
“Obviously, expectations are pretty high,” Brockman said. “We think we have the talent to at least contend for an OVC championship. If the team meshes, if everybody trusts each other and feeds off each other, we’d be doing ourselves an injustice if we didn’t think we could contend for an OVC championship.”
Murray’s offense led the league in total yards (449.7 per game), passing yards (313.5) and points (36.1). It will have to replace Marcus Harris (84 catches for 1,057 yards, both tops in the OVC, and nine scores) but has two other top receivers in Arthur Brackett (62-617-3) and Dexter Barnett (38-322-4).
The running game will be fueled by Mike Harris, who was second in the OVC with 904 yards and 10 TDs despite being limited by an injury in the final two games.
Brockman said Hatcher’s offense makes it easy to be successful. It’s virtually the same system the University of Kentucky ran when he was an assistant under Hal Mumme.
“He’s been around the game for so long and has gotten so many ideas from so many people,” Brockman said. “It’s really easy to trust what he does. We play at such a high pace and high-tempo offense, sometimes it catches the defense off guard.”
Murray’s showdown at home against Jacksonville State on Oct. 1 could decide the OVC race.
“I don’t know if we’re good enough to be the second best in our conference — yet,” Hatcher said. “But the perception of our program has changed a great deal in one year.”
By Michael Grant, The Courier-Journal