Stewart pleased with building process
Despite having 42 freshman on the team last fall, Mitch Stewart led the Racer football team to a 4-7 record, 4-4 in Ohio Valley Conference play. And two of those victories came against ranked teams.
“We’re trying to build a program here and do it the right way,” he said. “And it takes time to do that. But with as many new guys as we had, I thought we did as well as could be expected. We established a good foundation to build on.
“We just have to learn how to finish ball games. We were right there in three games that we wound up losing. We just couldn’t finish. We’re working to improve on that and we’re working to improve our roster and build depth on our roster.”
Stewart added 30 new recruits to the program this winter, including five mid-year transfers.
“I feel really good about the guys we signed,” he said. “Obviously, we needed to find a quarterback and we signed three guys that we really like. We got Shuler Bentley, a transfer from Old Dominion. His dad and his brother are coaches at South Carolina. He was a starter at Old Dominion. He has a great arm and he’s very smart. We were able to get him at the mid-term.”
While at Old Dominion, Bentley completed 144 of 279 passes for 1,498 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions.
“Then we brought in another mid-term guy, Preston Rice from Wayne County High School in Tennessee,” Stewart said. “He’s a hard worker, puts a lot of weight on the rack in the weight room. He has a linebacker mentality. He’ll probably get the defense mad and get in a fight in the spring. But that’s okay. He also has a lot of talent and he knows how to play the position.”
Rice won Tennessee’s Class A Mr. Football award for backs last year.
“Then the other kid, Corey Newble, is kind of an X factor,” Stewart said. “He can make a play with his legs. We’ll give him a shot at quarterback. But we may move him to wide receiver.”
Newble threw for over 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns last year at Liberty Tech high school in Jackson, Tennessee. He also ran for 400 yards and 11 touchdowns and was a Class 3A all-state selection.
“Nobody wants to win any more than I do. And I’m really, really excited about where the program is headed.” – Mitch Stewart
Other recruits who could make an immediate impact include D. J. Penick, Austin Daulton, and JaQuez Hill
“We got D. J. Penick, a running back out of Chicago,” Stewart said. “This was the first time we really recruited the Chicago area. He’s a wrestler, so he’s a tough kid. And he has good parents. He’s very athletic, he can catch the ball and I think he’ll be able to produce very quickly in our system.”
Penick rushed for 1,718 yards last season, scored 23 touchdowns and was a Class 7A all-state selection.
“Then we got Austin Daulton, an offensive lineman from Pulaski County,” Stewart said. “Most of the film we had on him was as a defensive lineman. But we think we can bring him in as an offensive tackle. He’s a hard nosed 300 pounder. And he’s very well put together.
“We also got a defensive lineman, JaQuez Hill, from Birmingham. We want him to come off the end for us. Last year the only way we could get to the quarterback was to blitz. And I like doing that. But, we need to be able to get to the quarterback without blitzing. And I think he can help us do that.”
Spring training will start in a couple of weeks. But Stewart will approach it a little differently this year.
“We’re only going to practice three days a week,” he said. “Our coaches and our players have enough of their weekends taken up with football in the fall. So, we won’t do anything on Saturdays or Sundays after the first weekend. I don’t want to take away the coaches’ and players’ family time on the weekends. And that will also allow us to have really good practices all three days. We’re allowed to have 15 practices and we’ll use 14 of them.
“Most people go Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. But they go light on Friday and use it to get ready for a scrimmage on Saturday. We’ll be able to go hard every day because we’ll have a day of rest in between the days we practice.”
“And, we will have a spring game this year. We weren’t able to do that last year just because we didn’t have enough players. So, we’ll do that on Friday, April 28. And, we’ll start about 6 p.m.”
This fall, the Racers play at Louisville on September 30. The Cardinals will feature Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, and should be one of the top teams in the country.
“We usually play a game like that at beginning of the season,” Stewart said. “But, when you play an opponent like that, it doesn’t really matter when you play as long as you don’t play them at the end of the season. But it will be a great experience for our guys. We’ll get to play the Heisman Trophy winner in a great environment on ESPN.
“It will be a great test for our defense. But we should go into the game very loose. The trick to games like that is getting your kids to understand that if it doesn’t go well it’s not the end of the world.”
Then, in 2018 the Racers will play at Kentucky.
“We were supposed to play Georgia, but some kind of scheduling conflict happened between Georgia and Kentucky so Kentucky took our game next year,” Stewart said. “And we’ll play Georgia in 2019.”
“I like playing those FBS schools in our recruiting area. It was fun to play at Western Michigan. But that doesn’t do a lot for us because we don’t recruit in Michigan. When we play an FBS team in our area we get a chance to piggyback on their recruiting. They may have a couple of hundred recruits at the game and we’ll get messages from some of them after the game asking to come to Murray for a visit.”
As for Racer fans…
“I want them to know that we’re getting there,” Stewart said. “Nobody wants to win any more than I do. And I’m really, really excited about where the program is headed. So, keep on coming out to support our guys. They work hard but they need your support.”