COLUMBIA — When the Hickman football team is on offense, Mason Murray is in charge.
On first, second and third down, the first-year quarterback is as happy as can be. Whether handing the ball off to one of the team’s talented running backs, throwing the fade route he and his teammates practice over and over throughout the week, or escaping the pocket to pick up yards on his own, Murray is all smiles.
Hickman Kewpies (5-0)
at Jefferson City Jays (5-0)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Adkins Stadium at Jefferson City High School
RADIO: KTGR/1050 AM
Fourth down, however, means the Kewpies have stalled on offense. More often than not, that means it’s time to punt.
While the rest of his teammates on offense jog off the field in frustration, Murray still has a job to do on fourth down. It’s a job he started in the fifth grade and has become quite skilled at, but it’s also a job he doesn’t care for. Murray is Hickman’s punter.
“I’m not really a big fan of it,” Murray said. “I punt because they need someone to.”
The Kewpies don’t just need someone to punt, coach Arnel Monroe said. They need someone who can punt like Murray does. His strong leg and constantly improving technique help Hickman put the opposition in bad field position.
“He hates to punt,” Monroe said with a laugh. “I think he takes out his frustration on the ball. But he knows how important that is to our game.”
Murray’s punting was particularly important in last Friday’s Providence Bowl win over Rock Bridge. Hickman scored only 10 points through the first three quarters, but Murray’s punting, along with the inspired effort of the Kewpies' defense, kept Hickman within 11 points of the lead.
Rock Bridge was forced to start six drives inside their own 20-yard line due in part to Murray’s effective punting. Murray’s finest kick of the night pinned the Bruins at their own 1-yard line.
“It’s not my favorite position to play,” Murray said. “But when you’re able to punt the ball well, I guess it’s not so bad.”
Having Murray at punter also allows Hickman to have some flexibility on fourth down. Murray will often punt out of the shotgun formation to make the opposition respect the threat of him passing.
“You have to defend that,” Monroe said. “We’re going to keep doing that and try to make things work that way.”
Things have worked out well for Hickman so far this season. The Kewpies have a 5-0 record heading into Friday’s game against undefeated Jefferson City.
In what figures to be a closely contested game between two bitter rivals, Hickman is certain to face fourth down at some point. And when the situation calls for it, Murray will be relied on to punt, whether he likes it or not.