COLUMBIA — Hickman quarterback Mason Murray found himself a bit out of his comfort zone in Friday night’s 10-7 overtime victory over Rock Bridge in the district playoffs.
Murray’s discomfort had nothing to do with Rock Bridge’s consistent pass rush, the biggest home crowd the Kewpies had all season or the intense pressure that comes with a postseason rivalry game.
No. 2 seed Hickman (9-1)
at No. 1 seed Francis Howell (10-1)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: St. Charles
Murray was uncomfortable because he was doing something he hadn’t done all season long: playing defense.
“This time of year, you’re going to use all of your athletes everywhere,” Hickman coach Arnel Monroe said. “So he’s played some nickel corner for us.”
Up to this point, Murray, a junior, had strictly played quarterback. In an attempt to focus Murray on playing quarterback and avoiding injury, Monroe did not have his quarterback participating in defensive drills.
But with the Kewpies suffering injuries in the secondary, Murray was asked to take on more responsibility. Running back Deven Larry, who doubles as a cornerback, was unable to finish Friday’s game with a shoulder injury. Senior defensive back Eric Wise also left Monday’s practice with a sore groin, though he is not expected to miss any time.
Murray played cornerback during his sophomore season, starting in the team’s upset victory over Jefferson City. As the leader of the team, Murray didn’t hesitate to step in for his injured teammates to keep the starters fresh.
“I had some experience with it last year,” Murray said. “We’ve had some big injuries, so they asked me to help the team out and play some defense. If they ask me to help my team out, I’ll do it.”
Now Murray can be found at Hickman practice roaming the secondary with a green no-contact jersey reserved for quarterbacks. Murray is still getting up to speed with the particulars of the defensive drills, and his teammates take every opportunity to heckle him from the sidelines.
“Yeah I’m still getting the hang of it, doing these new drills that I haven’t really done before,” Murray said. “They just try to somewhat encourage me to do them better, I guess. It helps knowing that they’re there trying to give me a boost.”
While Murray gets a rise out of his teammates in practice with big plays or big hits, he acknowledges that his defensive play hasn’t been perfect. In the second half of Friday’s game, Murray was flagged for defensive pass interference on a deep pass down the sidelines.
The penalty yardage was critical at the time, but Monroe is able to laugh it off now. Monroe says Murray is an asset in the defensive backfield because of his experience and effort.
“He’s working, he’s really working at it,” Monroe said.
With added reps at practice and snaps in the game action, Murray is getting comfortable with his defensive responsibilities again.
“It’s feeling good to come back and play a little bit of defense,” Murray said. “Being able to play on both sides of the ball is fun."
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.