VERO BEACH — A year ago, running back Demetris Murray was nearly at the end of USF's bench as a redshirt freshman, his only carries coming in the final minutes of two games whose outcomes had been decided for some time.
This year, he should have the ball in his hands with the game on the line, emerging as the No. 2 running back as the Bulls install a new offense under first-year coach Skip Holtz. In a busy offseason that had four returning backs once ahead of him leave the position, if not the team, Murray is ready to show what he can do, confident but humble.
"The attitude I have is to come out and get better every day, for myself and to help my team in any way possible so we can win the Big East and get to the goal that we're focused on," said Murray, a quiet 5-foot-10, 206-pound sophomore who helped Buford (Ga.) High to a state championship in 2007.
Sixth-year senior Mo Plancher, a starter last season, is entrenched as the Bulls' No. 1 back, but Murray is the runner poised to take on the biggest upgrade in his role on the team. Last fall, he totaled 14 carries, with 11 coming on the final two series of a 59-0 win against I-AA Charleston Southern and the other three coming on the last series of USF's 31-10 loss to Miami. He could surpass his 78 total rushing yards in the first week of the season.
"Mo's done a really nice job, and Murray's done a nice job," Holtz said after Wednesday's practice. "(Murray) will be in a very big role — they're 1 and 2 right now, and came out of spring 1 and 2 and are holding down those jobs in the fall. They will both play and have a role on this football team, and we just have to find No. 3 and No. 4."
Murray has seen a large hole open in front of him. Seniors Mike Ford, Jamar Taylor and Aston Samuels are no longer with the team, and sophomore Lindsey Lamar, a former Hillsborough High standout, was moved to receiver this spring.
Murray chose USF over Mississippi and Southern Miss in 2008 after being named offensive player of the year for all of Class 2A in Georgia as a senior. He has stepped up in big games before, rushing for 210 yards on 15 carries in Buford's state championship victory.
"I wanted to get far from home and get a great education," Murray said of being a rare out-of-state signee for the Bulls. "It was a newer program, and I wanted to come in and help somebody win."
He'll have that chance this fall and said he has learned much from offensive coordinator and running backs coach Todd Fitch, who helped cultivate a future star at East Carolina in running back Chris Johnson, who rushed for 2,006 yards last season with the Titans in the NFL.
Murray has his own personal tie to a star NFL running back: He is a cousin of former Georgia and 49ers star Garrison Hearst, who topped 1,000 yards four times in 10 pro seasons.
The Bulls hold their first full scrimmage in Vero Beach today, and fans should get a closer look at Murray, who likes the idea of USF implementing a more traditional running game after letting quarterbacks lead the team in rushing the past four seasons.
"It's more running, taking a little pressure off (quarterback) B.J. (Daniels) and putting it more on the running backs and receivers," Murray said. "It's more of a traditional offense, and I like it."
Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 226-3346.