Hodge, Murphey and Harrison aid Hampton cause

By Jamie Combs
Sports Editor
jcombs@starhq.com

   Brad Hodge, Pat Murphey and Kevin Harrison. These three Bulldog seniors go with Hampton's prolific style of football the way water goes with quick-dry cement.
   "I like the way they play," said Hampton head coach J.C. Campbell, whose team stands at 7-2 on the year and will wrap up the Watauga Conference title with a win at Chuckey-Doak this Friday night.
   Hodge, a guard and defensive tackle, is a three-year starter on the offensive line. However, with this being the first season he's stayed healthy enough to be on the field every game, he's taken his performance to a higher level and played very sound football.
   "This is the first year I'm finishing the year without having an injury, which is nice," said Hodge. "I'm finally getting to play a whole season. Last year I was having good games, then I'd get hurt and fall behind in practice. I missed a couple of games here and there, and I think that hurt me.
   "I finally bounced back this year and started playing. I lifted some weights and got stronger and healthier. It feels pretty good this year."
   While Hodge does a commendable job defensively (28 tackles), he acknowledges that his best work comes by throwing blocks for an offense that averages better than 300 yards and 26 points per game (both conference highs).
   Having helped tailback Michael Peterson move into position to rush for 1,000 yards this season (Peterson has 920 on the ground), Hodge has also been adept at providing time for quarterback Mitchell Morton (719 yards passing) to spot his receivers.
   "Brad's just solid," Campbell said. "He's not anything real outstanding and he doesn't have many lows -- he's just solid. He's one of those that next year you'll miss him."
   Bulldog coach Danny McClain added that Hodge is the consummate team player and a good all-around guy.
   "He's a fun guy to be around," McClain said. "He's the kind of kid you'd like your daughter to date."
   Now in his second season as a starter, Murphey is a hard-nosed player who refuses to back down from a challenge.
   Murphey, a reliable blocker for two years at guard, rates as a key defensive contributor from his standup end/linebacker position. Furthermore, he played some nose tackle in the team's game against Cloudland this past Friday night.
   "Pat can get down there and hold his own on the nose," Campbell said. "Any single thing you ask of him, he's going to do it as well as he can, and apologizes when he's overmatched."
   Said Murphey: "Wherever he'll let me play, I'll play there."
   Despite missing one game this season, Murphey has racked up 41 tackles while showing the ability to defend the pass and pressure the pocket.
   His top game, though, probably occurred during his junior campaign, when he collected 10 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery in Hampton's 17-14 victory over Happy Valley. For that performance, he received the Tri-Cities Nissan/Elizabethton STAR Player of the Week award.
   "I feel like I've done pretty well for my high school career," said Murphey, citing speed as his biggest asset on the field.
   Campbell admires Murphey, one of the smallest players on the team -- the Bulldog roster lists him at 5-7, 165 pounds -- for his determination.
   "Pat's all heart because he's too little for size," Campbell said. "He's a hard worker. Pat's the kind you'd like to have a whole bunch of."
   As for Harrison, he's emerged as one of the top cover cornerbacks in the conference, and serves his team well as a runner and receiver.
   "You just can't throw on Kevin's side," Campbell said. "You can put him over there and not worry about him. He holds his corner down. And if it wasn't for Mikey (Peterson), he'd be our starting tailback, too."
   All this comes from a guy who didn't come out for high school football until after the 2001 season had started.
   Harrison, who was already a standout on the basketball team, is certainly glad he elected to take on a new sport.
   "I love it," he said. "I regret not playing the first two years. I think I've helped out a lot."
   Tied for the team lead in interceptions with two, Harrison came up big in the 'Dogs' 22-14 victory at West Greene this year, picking off one pass and knocking away three others.
   Asked what makes him such an effective pass defender, he said: "Concentrating and knowing what to look for."
   Harrison can stop the run as well, evidenced by the fact he is tied for fifth on the team with 50 stops.
   "If they're not real physical with him, he'll hunt them down," Campbell said.
   With 280 yards of combined rushing and receiving this year, Harrison is averaging 8.5 yards each offensive touch.
   Asked how he best contributes to the 'Dogs, Harrison said: "Just filling in where they need me and trying to do what they need me to do."
   Hampton will undoubtedly need Harrison, Murphey and Hodge to be at their best when the playoffs begin next week.
   It's the time of year when seniors come to grips that their careers are near the end.
   "It's going to be different when the playoffs come and you know there's no tomorrow if you don't win," Murphey said.
   Added Hodge: "We're close to the end, and it's finally kicking in that my career is almost over. It seems like it was just last week that we were having spring practice. Somehow, this year has just flown by. A couple of more games and that could be it."
   However, careers don't have to end before players express their feelings about time spent on the football field.
   For Harrison, a lot of pride goes along with representing the boys in blue.
   "It means a lot," he said.
   According to Murphey and Hodge, playing for Hampton is a top-notch experience.
   "It's been great playing here," Murphey said. "The coaches are great and the players are great."
   Said Hodge: "I've had a great time wearing a Hampton uniform."