Raise your hand if you saw that coming? While many fans expected great things out of the Navy…
Overlooked Murray Keeps Plugging Away
"It makes no difference on what people say about my running style," said Murray. "Whether I'm too slow or I run too high or whatever. The bottom line is they don't know how to play Navy fullback, and I'm just worried about what happens in the game."
Murray knows more than a little about playing fullback for Navy. As a junior in 2009, he provided an essential spark for the Navy offense, starting the final eight games of the year while rushing for a 5.3 yard average. The latest heir in the line of Navy B-backs who've given new life to a position most teams in today's college game treat only as an afterthought, Murray and his nonchalant attitude seem out of place in today's gridiron landscape. Where the success of his predecessors -- whether through the punishing style of Kyle Eckel or the athletic open field moves of Eric Kettani – often came with fanfare and expectations, Murray's 2009 accomplishments were born from relative obscurity.
After all, Navy fans had just spent the entire offseason hearing about how sophomore fullback Alex Teich would soon carry on the banner of the triple option fullback tradition. With 4.5 speed and a slashing style, Teich was supposed to represent a new breed of Navy fullback, and help the Mids overcome the loss of two-year starter Eric Kettani. For a time the Texas native did; that is until a string of early season injuries ground him to a halt by the fourth game of the season. Called upon to take over for Teich against Air Force in week four, Murray seized the opportunity and didn't look back.
"Just knowing Navy's offense and knowing how it works, (I knew) as a backup fullback that there is always a chance I'd have to go in there and make a big impact on the team," Murray said. "It was just something I had prepared myself for and I was ready for it."
The results were instantaneous. His 67 yards on the ground against the Falcons earned him a start the next week against Rice. A career day soon followed with 142 yards and two scores against SMU, only to be surpassed by a 175 yard outing in a rain-soaked win over Wake Forest a week later. Little did the former Cincinnati Enquirer Player of the Year know that two more 100 yard plus games were to follow, including a national coming out party in which he averaged over 11 yards per carry in Navy's upset of Notre Dame.
Opposing defenses weren't the only ones caught off guard by Murray's success, as even the confident yet humble junior found himself taken aback by the statistical resume he soon compiled.
"I didn't expect to do as well as I did," said Murray, who became the first Navy running back since Napoleon McCallum to rush for more than 100 yards in four consecutive games. "We were just taking what the defense was giving us in those particular games. They were trying to stop the outside pitch and the (fullback dive) just opened up. I don't think it was anything with my particular great running skills. It was just the way the defense played in that particular week."
Murray would go on to finish the year with 971 yards and six touchdowns on the ground despite missing a game due to injury and seeing only spot duty in the first three contests. He hasn't let the success go to his head, however, and remains as humble and soft spoken as ever. The ultimate team player who lists going "1-0" each week as his only goal for 2010, the 6-foot-1 Kentucky native is more apt to talk about the overlooked aspects of his game which contributed to the team's success in 2009.
Chief among them? Helping quarterback Ricky Dobbs set the single season NCAA rushing touchdown record for a quarterback.
"Ricky breaking that record is great," Murray said. "A lot of my buddies will say things like, ‘why doesn't he hand the ball off?' But they don't understand that that is not the play. The play is to get Ricky into the endzone."
Dobbs may have the body of a human battering ram, but more often than not it was Murray who would take on blitzing linebackers in goal-line situations last season, helping to pave the way for his quarterback and his 27 touchdowns.
"It's a great feeling when you get your block in and Ricky goes right off untouched into the endzone," Murray added. "Anytime Ricky scores it might as well be me. It doesn't make any difference who is in the endzone as long as we're getting six points."
Perhaps equally important for Navy is Murray's ability to hold onto the ball when it matters most. He fumbled only once in 2009, and helped to preserve a Navy victory in torrential rains against Wake Forest in week eight. Murray credits his familiarity with Dobbs – not to mention that ‘awkward' running style so often referenced by opposing fans – with the often overlooked, but not underappreciated, facet of playing fullback.
"(Being) comfortable with the quarterback and having that chemistry with the quarterback is a huge part of playing fullback in the option system," he said. "(Ricky and I) came up and have been working together for three years now, so (we've) definitely come a long way."
While some may question his running style, no one is questioning Murray's effectiveness coming into the 2010 season. The senior isn't taking the opportunity to let his guard down, however, and has been working furiously this offseason with Navy's coaches in an ongoing effort to improve his speed and lateral quickness.
"I'm always focused on getting faster," he said.
Listed as the starter going into the summer, Murray will need that improved speed if he's too hold off backup Alex Teich during the two fullbacks' impending position battle this August. The two proved neck and neck at times during the spring, and Murray knows that regardless of the outcome of this summer's position battle, the athletic Texan will also figure prominently into Navy's offense in 2010. It may be cliché to say, Murray admitted, but the competition between he and Teich only helps the team, which will need all the playmakers it can get with the recent dismissal of slotback Marcus Curry and receiver Mario Washington.
As for the two fullback's relationship on and off the field? They remain good friends and each others' biggest supporters, a fact that no competition can come between.
"It's always going to be a competition between me and Alex," Murray claimed. "He's a great runner and a great Division 1 fullback. We're great friends and definitely great competitors on the field but off the field we're great friends and that won't change. Our competition on the field won't stop that."
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