USF's Demetris Murray is on the rise

South Florida running back Demetris Murray turned his ankle during a spring practice and laid on the ground for several seconds.

While Murray was on the turf, head coach Skip Holtz ambled over and said he was looking for backs who could play through bumps and bruises. Murray almost immediately popped up and announced, "I'm your guy."

"Ever since then, I've tried to live by that motto," Murray said. "I want to be an every-down back and not just a guy who lays on the ground."

Murray wasn't about to stay down with the opportunity that arose in front of him. When seniors Mike Ford, Jamar Taylor and Aston Samuels all left the team, it opened the door for the sophomore to rise up the depth chart and earn more carries this season.

So far, he's making the most of the chance. Last week against Western Kentucky, Murray rushed for a career-high 115 yards and a touchdown. Here's what made that performance even more impressive: Murray rolled his ankle on his first play in the game, and it has been swollen all week. But he stayed in and pushed through it.

"It was pretty tough," he said. "But I felt like I didn't want to let my brothers down."

The Bulls have morphed into a team that relies heavily on the running game; they've rushed 115 times this year compared to only 70 passes. That's bad news for this week's opponent, Florida Atlantic. The Owls have the worst rushing defense in the FBS, allowing 275 yards per game on the ground this season.

South Florida is maintaining a tailback tandem approach with Murray and Mo Plancher, who had 17 carries against Western Kentucky. But Murray has given them a nice burst of energy.

"The thing that's impressed me from Game 1 to Game 3 is that he enjoys playing the game and he's passionate about it," offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. "He plays with excitement and fun. When players play that way, they tend to be successful.

"He's not a blazer by any means, but he does a nice job of seeing things. The first game, I didn't think he made enough people miss. But in the Florida game, he had two really nice runs where he beat a guy to the hole."

The Florida game was Murray's first real exposure to a wide audience. He had 11 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown in that 38-14 loss. Yet, he also lost a key fumble as the Bulls were driving in the second half to slice the Gators' lead. While Murray said he got down on himself as he walked to the sideline after that turnover, Holtz didn't have to say anything to him about that play.

"I think he's just one of those young men who's loving what he's going through right now," Holtz said. "He has waited for his turn since his freshman year, and he has said, 'This is what I've waited for.'"

Murray, a Georgia native who is a cousin to former NFL running back Garrison Hearst, believes he could be an every-down back if the Bulls wanted to go that direction. But he's also happy splitting time with Plancher, a sixth-year senior.

"I call him Old Man Wisdom," Murray says. "He talks to me a lot about the ins and outs of the position. He's been a really big influence on me."

South Florida will continue to use both backs as it tries to develop its passing game. But the Bulls already know one thing for sure: it's hard to keep Murray down for long.