Holding on: Mesa’s Murray wants to make most of final snaps

Kasey Kahne celebrates after winning the Pep Boys Auto 500 NACAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., Sunday, Sept. 6, 2009.  (AP Photo/)



Mesa State (5-4, 5-2 RMAC) at Chadron State (5-4, 4-3 RMAC), noon Saturday, Don Beebe Stadium.

Radio: 1230-AM (KEXO), pre-game at 11:30 a.m. TV: Channel 47 (Altitude 2).

Series: Chadron leads 13-5. The Eagles have won the past four meetings.

Mesa State

Coach: Joe Ramunno, 12th year, 74-60

Last year: 6-5 (6-3 RMAC)

Last week: Lost to Adams State 19-12 at Stocker Stadium.

Noteworthy: The last time the Mavericks won in Chadron (2003), Mesa won the RMAC title. None of the Mavs’ current offensive line starters were regular starters last year. Mesa is fourth in the nation in rushing defense (68.33 yards per game) and fifth in the nation in sacks (3.44 per game). The Mavericks have 71 rushing first downs and 72 passing first downs.

Chadron State

Coach: Bill O’Boyle, 5th year, 44-14

Last year: 11-2 (8-0 RMAC)

Last week: Lost to Colorado School of Mines 37-14 in Alamosa.

Noteworthy: The Eagles have thrown the ball 450 times and run the ball 447 times this season. This is the final home game for 17 Chadron State seniors. The Eagles lead the RMAC in total defense (297.67 yards per game). Punter Kevin Berg leads the nation in punt average (42.79).

— Allen Gemaehlich

Justin Murray has been a winner in everything he’s done.

The former three-sport athlete at Grand Junction High School played on the state champion baseball team, the state runner-up football team and on a league championship basketball team.

Now a senior wide receiver on the Mesa State College football team, Murray wants to end his college career as a winner.

“It went by way too fast; it seems like a blur,” Murray said. “It seems like last year I came here 150 (pounds). I’ve learned a lot about football. It’s kind of sad to think about it. I’ve been playing football my whole life and this could be the last two games I play. I’m trying not to think about it.”

The Mavericks (5-4, 5-2 RMAC) may be out of the picture for an RMAC title and an NCAA Division II postseason berth, but Murray hasn’t given up on the season.

The 5-foot-9, 180-pound receiver leads the team with 34 receptions. He is second on the team in yards (519) and touchdown catches (4). He averages 15.3 yards per catch and 57.7 yards per game.

“It’s his yards after the catch,” Mesa coach Joe Ramunno said. “He’s come up with some big plays. With the youth in the other positions, it’s hard to get the ball to him, but he’s found a spot and continues to work hard. It’s hard for the seniors coming in their last year. It was pretty emotional last week with him (when the Mavs lost to Adams State, ending their RMAC title hopes). We’ll play with a lot of pride.

“He’s always been a great effort guy. They get a lot of that from (receivers) Coach (Donnie) Holmes. He is an excellent coach and draws it out of them as much as you possibly can. That’s how Donnie was as a player.”

Holmes, a former Mesa State receiver himself, played in the NFL with the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals.

“I learned how to run routes, read coverages, little detailed things a lot of people don’t notice or think about,” Murray said, “a lot of stuff from Coach Holmes and all the things he learned in the NFL.”

Murray wanted not only to learn from Holmes, but to stay close to home when he chose Mesa State.

“I had my family come to every game,” Murray said. “I have a lot of good friends still in Junction come support me. I didn’t have to go off and try to get new fans in another town. I have the same coaches coaching me, pretty much the same coaches since I’ve been here, which is really nice.”

One of the Mesa assistant coaches this year, Shawn Marsh, was Murray’s head coach at Grand Junction.

Staying home helped Murray adjust to college football.

“It’s a hard thing going from high school straight into college,” Murray said. “It’s a big step. Some of the guys are learning that and trying to adjust. I’ve been trying to help them with what I know. You just have to play games to get used to it.”

Murray and tight end Seth Damron are the only seniors starting on offense for the Mavericks this season. Two other seniors, Ryan Polosky and Chris Rossman, back them up.

“We’ve done really well being that we have a freshman quarterback, young running backs and an offensive line that’s just coming together,” Murray said. “For being so young, we’re experienced. We know what we can and can’t do. We’re making the best of it.

“Personally, I haven’t reached any of the goals I set for myself. Knowing that I know the offense in and out and I can help these younger guys be the best they can be was one of my goals, and I think I reached that. Next year, you’ll have Ricky (Noble) and Griff (Griffin Chernoff). Some of these young guys may be stepping in and they’ll be pretty good.”

Murray, a construction management major, isn’t sure about his future.

“I have no idea. I don’t want to think about the future, about getting job. I’m going to miss being a college athlete, I guess. I don’t know,” he said.

“I’ve been coaching basketball the last three years, eighth grade boys and girls basketball. It’s fun when they listen to you.”


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