Returning all 22 starters from the previous season is something rarely seen in college football. Couple that with the fact a new coach got those 22 players to perform at a high level in their first season together only fuels the excitement in southern Kentucky this season.
“We’ve got some work to do to improve,” said MSU coach Dean Hood, despite the fact the Racers took the OVC by storm last season by winning each of its first five games of the spring season.
It was Hood’s first season at the helm of the Murray State program. But his is a familiar face in and around the Ohio Valley Conference.
Hood was the head coach at Eastern Kentucky (2008-15) before joining the staff as an assistant at Kentucky (2017-19) prior to returning to the OVC in 2020, but having the fall season cancelled. He also worked as an assistant at EKU (1994-98) before spending time as an assistant at Ohio University (1999-00) and Wake Forest (2001-07) before returning to take over the EKU program.
“I either like (the OVC) or I’m a glutton for punishment,” Hood surmised about his latest return to the storied league.
Hood has every reason to be a bit light-hearted as the new season got its unofficial start with the annual media day.
Among those 22 starters are four players on each side of the ball who were selected to the preseason all-OVC honors squad. A ninth player, Malik Honeycutt (5-10-177), was picked as the top punt returner as the fall season prepares to get underway.
Talented quarterback Preston Rice (6-2, 227, Sr.) headlines the Racers on offense and was chosen as one of the top two quarterbacks in the league heading into the 2021 season.
“He is really phenomenal at managing a game,” Hood said of Rice, “and he makes some really good decisions when things break down.”
Jacob Bell (6-3, 177, Jr.) and LaMartez Brooks (6-1, 192, Sr.) joined Rice as skill position players on the preseason all-conference team and gives Rice two quality receivers to look for this season.
Two standouts along the offensive front will also help in Hood’s desire to see his team improve.
Levi Nesler (6-1, 318, Sr.), a former walk-on at MSU who was named all-conference last season, was all smiles as he spoke as part of media day.
“I’m just happy to be back, Nesler said. “I’m just ready to play football.”
Nesler also pointed to increased expectations as the Racers head into the new season.
“It’s more than 22 guys,” said, “there are so many more who know what the standard is for this program.”
He will be joined along the offensive front by Jacob Vance (6-4, 328, RS-Sr.) to provide plenty of protection for Rice to operate the MSU offense.
Four MSU seniors were also tabbed as among the best in the league on defense. Ethan Edmondson (6-3, 246), a defensive end, along with linebackers Scotty Humpich (6-4, 252) and Eric Samuta (5-10, 215), as well as cornerback Marcis Floyd (5-10, 215) are expected to be the stalwarts on defense for the Racers this season.
Key Game: Oct. 23 versus Austin Peay. ‘Nuff said.
Worst Case: Injuries, that one aspect every coach is well aware of, but hesitates to mention, trip up the Racers in their quest for the title.
Best Case: Murray State has the ponies in the stable to sweep through the OVC schedule. A few other teams will have something to say about that and that leads to the potential for one of the most exciting conferences races in several years.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.