MURRAY — There was a momentary bright spot yesterday in a sports world that looks bleak due to the coronavirus pandemic, as Murray High quarterback Hunter Utley signed his national letter of intent to play for the University of Memphis next season.
His decision comes after previously committing to the University of the Cumberlands in Lebanon, Tennessee. Utley, a four-year starter for the Tigers, said that ultimately it came down to challenging himself at the highest level possible.
“It’s been a dream of mine to play Division I my whole life, so the more that I thought about it, it was, ‘Why not go try to fulfill my dreams and go work for it,’” Utley said. “It was a great opportunity and I just didn’t want to pass it up. I felt like I would regret it eventually.”
As a four-year starter, Utley put up incredible numbers in the Tigers uniform that he wore every Friday night. Over the course of his career, he completed 548 passes, for 7,757 yards, 80 touchdowns, and 36 interceptions. During his final season, he had 30 TDs to just five interceptions despite missing the last three games of the year with an injury.
It was during his stellar senior season that he was offered a preferred walk-on opportunity with Memphis. For Utley, the decision to change from the Cumberlands was not an easy one, nor was it one he took lightly.
“I thought about it for a week,” Utley said. “I talked to one person about it and just got there unbiased opinion. I didn’t talk to my parents or family or anybody else about it. I just wanted to see what felt best to me and I didn’t want to be pressured any way. So, I thought about it for a week and eventually brought it up to my parents. We talked about it and they supported me and said whatever feels best for me is what I needed to do, and that felt right in my heart.”
Murray High football coach Keith Hodge said that he knows the Utley can not only compete at the top level, but he could potentially earn a starting role.
“We are very proud of his work ethic, dedication and how unselfish he has been to this program,” Hodge said. “Beyond the stats, the wins, and how Hunter performed on the field, I think the biggest trait he is leaving behind, is how to be a great teammate. Add his skills to this, and Hunter has a great opportunity to do awesome things at the next level.”
The Memphis Tigers play in the American Athletic Conference as part of the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, which is a step up from the NAIA University of the Cumberlands program Utley had previously verbally committed to.
“He just didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to be able to go in and try to compete at that level, and deep down, I think he has a really good shot of developing and really pushing whoever they call their starter,” Hodge said. “I think he’s got a shot. His first year he’ll be a walk-on but after that I think he will go in and have an opportunity to compete and do some really good things for them.”