MURRAY — There will be a missing piece for the Murray State Racers today on the offense and maybe more importantly, on special teams. Head coach Mitch Stewart announced on Monday that Malik Honeycutt will possibly miss the remainder of the year with an undisclosed knee injury.

Back on OVC Media Day, Honeycutt was named to the preseason first team for special teams as a return man. The accolade came after he returned two kicks for a touchdown last season in the final two weeks of the season after spending most of the beginning of the year as the backup kick returner. 

Stewart said the team tried to keep the news from leaking out and that there is a chance he will suit up again for the Racers, either this year or next.

“We tried to keep it as quiet as we could for as long as we could. Social media gets you every time, but Malik (Honeycutt) messed his knee up and will not be back for the year,” Stewart said. “Could have a possibility of being back towards the end of the year. We’ll evaluate that when we get there, whether that’s week eight, week nine, week 10, whatever that looks like.”

The injury presents a unique opportunity for Honeycutt to expand upon his leadership role with the team, and the wide receivers group, by being a vocal leader from the sidelines.

“Huge silver lining for that kid to be put in a different role, because now his role is that he has to be the leader that he was on the field, but he has to be that off the field, for that (wide reciever) room, because they really need his personality and who he is and his work ethic,” Stewart said. “They need to see him do that even when he’s not playing. So that’s going to be a very unique experience and a great opportunity for him. It gives us an opportunity to bring him back next year and get a sixth year for him, and it also gives an opportunity for guys like Jacob Bell to really step into a role.” 

The depth at the wide receiver position coming into the season allows for the team to recover from a tough loss to a talented player like Honeycutt, and Stewart is really excited about what that means for some of the younger guys like Bell.

“You’re going to see some young guys,” Stewart said. “Some juniors, some sophomores, some redshirt freshmen. I believe you’re going to see some guys step up this year who were not in starting roles - Jacob Bell being one of those. Remember that name. He was a guy that we were able to redshirt last year and he’s now stepped into that wide receiver role and will probably be a starter in that wide receiver role come Thursday.”

Another deep position for the Racers will be the defensive line, and Stewart said fans will get a chance to see every single one on the roster get some snaps tonight against Pikeville.

“You’re going to see every D-lineman we’ve got,” Stewart said. “We’ve got 18 of them on scholarship on the roster and you’re going to see every single one of them play at some point this season. There’s a reason why we built it that way. It’s so that we can stay as fresh as we can up there, but you’ll see all of those guys, some of which have played a lot of snaps, and some which not so much and now is their opportunity.”

One of the most important questions for Murray State seems to have been answered headed into the season opener. Starting at quarterback and replacing Drew Anderson will be Preston Rice, and by all accounts, he has earned the spot as the starter.

“He’s always taken every chance he’s had to learn and get better,” Stewart said. “He’s always working and he’s always going to be a guy that’s out there working at night. when you drive to dinner with your wife on Friday night, you’re going to see somebody out there on the field throwing and it’s Preston Rice. It’s the type of kid he is. He will wear his wide receiver’s legs out trying to throw and he’s done it the right way.”

The quarterback group is full of talented players and the battle this offseason was intense. One of the most encouraging things about this group is their competitiveness and their desire to play the game full speed, even in practice. Stewart said Rice was the one that asked to get rid of the red shirt in practice that meant that defensive players couldn’t hit him. The rest of the group agreed. 

“He (Rice) struggled in the first scrimmage and I think he just looked really uncomfortable,” Stewart said. “He came to me and he said, ‘Coach, I can’t play like this,’ and I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ and he said, ‘This red jersey has got to go. You’ve got to let me play football. I can’t be back there and not feel the urgency of somebody wanting to hit me. We’ve got to go live.’ 

“So that’s what we did the following three scrimmages in fall camp, or two scrimmages and one live period at practice. We made it live each time and that was what I like about that whole room. All of the quarterbacks were a lot more comfortable playing live knowing that they were going to get hit. You go to see that sense of urgency and they did a lot better with that sense of urgency than they did with those red shirts and it was very encouraging for me.”