When Parker Murray arrived at Lenoir-Rhyne University in 2009, he found himself in what he described as an average football program. Five years later, Murray finds himself as the centerpiece of an offensive line poised on the brink of history.
Murray, a red-shirt senior, plays center for the 13th-ranked Bears, who aim to become the first private school to win the NCAA Division II National Championship. It would be the school’s first national title since taking the NAIA national title in 1960. Even more impressive, the Bears need just 30 rushing yards to become only the third team in NCAA history to rush for 5,000 yards in a season.
“I think playing on the offensive line is different than any other position on the field,” Murray said. “On every play, you are not doing something by yourself. You have to move and work as a unit. Being a part of that and being a part of the nation’s best rushing attack is special.”
The Bears’ triple option attack leads all schools in all divisions in rushing yards per game. They take that attack to Florence, Ala., this Saturday as they face second-ranked Northwest Missouri State for the national title. The game will be televised on ESPN beginning at noon Saturday.
Following Lenoir-Rhyne’s first game of the 2013 campaign, no one was talking about national title hopes. The Bears fumbled the football eight times, losing five, and threw one interception en route to an 18-10 loss to Concord.
“That was a terrible day,” Murray said. “We knew we needed to play better and that’s what we’ve done. We haven’t lost a game since.”
The Bears have rattled off 13 straight wins, the latest a 42-14 dismantling of No. 15 West Chester. The Bears racked up 451 yards rushing in the national semifinal game and punched their ticket for Saturday’s showdown for the national championship.
The game will be bittersweet for the 6-foot-2, 270 pound Murray. It will be his final game for the Bears. Murray has already graduated with a degree in youth and family ministries with a minor in mathematics. While Murray is focused on Saturday’s game, he says he is ready for the next chapter of his life to begin.
“With my degree, I could go overseas and work in the mission field,” Murray said. “With the minor in mathematics, I could get into coaching. I’m not really sure which direction I will go. I’m going to see where the Lord leads me and that’s where I’ll go.”