A different year, a different role

USF sophomore running back Demetris Murray lay on the ground after a play during spring practice, favoring his ankle.

Coach Skip Holtz came to his rescue, bringing along a few welcome words.

“I was kind of rolling around on the ground, being a little baby,” Murray said. “He let reality set in real quick and said he wanted an every-down back. I wanted to be that guy, so I hopped up real quick and let him know.”

Whether Murray has that potential isn’t clear, but with where he was last year at this time, things can only get brighter.

After redshirting his first year on campus, Murray played sparingly last year as a redshirt freshman, sitting behind upperclassmen Mike Ford, Jamar Taylor and Mo Plancher.

With all three expected back for this season, Murray was only counted on to make minimal contributions like he did in 2009, only a year older and with one less season to contribute.

But Ford was kicked off the team after a record-setting performance in the International Bowl in January, and Taylor quit football during spring practice. Plancher, who led all USF running backs with 581 yards and five touchdowns, was still waiting to hear back from the NCAA on whether he would be granted a sixth year of eligibility.

“It was unfortunate to what happened with the guys in front of us, having to leave and stuff like that. Things happen,” Murray said. “You just got to be able to push through it and continue to get better and focus what you can focus on to help the team win.”

Murray, who had only 14 carries for 77 yards last season, took advantage of the void at running back. Holtz said during spring practices, Murray made his case to become USF’s every-down back with his breakout performance.

“You’re looking at Demetris Murray, (redshirt freshman Bradley) Battles and (true freshman Marcus) Shaw – you’re looking at a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and a true freshman. Some of them were going to have to mature and grow up,” Holtz said. “I told (Murray) during the spring we’re trying to find an every-down tailback. He hopped right up and said, ‘I’m your guy.'”

“This is what he wants. He has worked extremely hard. It was critical – somebody had to stand up,” he said.

Murray and Plancher have shared the load this season, with Murray amassing 237 yards on 35 carries (6.6 yards per carry), while Plancher has 141 yards on 30 carries and two touchdowns.

Murray rushed for a career-high 115 yards (on 15 carries) in a 24-12 win against Western Kentucky last week.

“It’s been great to watch him mature,” Holtz said. “I don’t want to say it like we’re all shocked. He’s got talent. But it’s really been great to see him mature as a person, a football player, as a running back. He’s done a great job.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said Murray’s role will continue to grow, especially while facing Florida Atlantic’s porous rush defense, which gives up an average of 275.7 rushing yards per game.

“At the University of Florida, he had a really good football game,” Fitch said. “Minus the exchange problem he had with the quarterback, he was going to be the MVP of the game if he didn’t have that. He has good football knowledge. He’s a physical runner as well as Mo (Plancher) is. He has good vision. He has a good feel for where the plays are going to set up, and he plays with a lot of passion. He may be our most passionate guy I see from watching up top, who enjoys playing the game. Usually, the guys that play with a lot of passion are successful.”

Despite the miscue, coaches turned to the highly trusted Murray, who had 62 yards rushing on 11 carries against the Gators, on the next drive.

“I just want the team and the coaches to have faith in me in the way I run the ball and the way I play and practice to come out here and know that I’m a team player and I’ll do whatever to help the team win,” Murray said. “When I fumbled, I feel like I let my brothers down, and I just didn’t like that feeling. I felt like I had to do something to try to help the team back out.”