South Charleston struggled moving the ball early last season as its offense adjusted to life without graduated quarterback Kentre Grier and his 42 career starts,
Then-junior Trae Murphy was thrust into the role under center, and the progress was slow through the first three games — all against teams that would reach the playoffs.
In fact, the Black Eagles managed just one offensive touchdown total in those first three games, limping out of the gate with a 1-2 record.
But a funny thing happened after that. Murphy started playing at an all-state level and South Charleston started looking like a playoff team itself.
The Black Eagles knocked off Huntington in the first round of the postseason to reach the Class AAA playoff quarterfinals last year, and with Murphy back to take snaps this year, SC has high hopes its offensive surge can continue.
“Trae grew up a lot last year,’’ said SC coach Donnie Mays. “He had a quarterback battle at the beginning, and he had to grow up quick. He clearly pulled away and helped lead our team to seven wins, with the offense going through him.
“As much as we struggled at the beginning portion of the year, he made it clear we were going to be an offense that can score points by the end of the season.’’
Once they got cranked up last year, the difference was like night and day for Murphy and the Black Eagles’ attack.
Through those first three games, SC was barely averaging 6 points, Murphy had rushed for minus-49 yards and was getting merely 65 yards passing per game with no touchdowns.
Over the final nine games, though, the Black Eagles scored at a 31-point clip, Murphy ran for 586 yards and five scores and threw for an average of 187 yards per game.
Murphy finished the season with stellar numbers, completing 58 percent of his passes for 1,876 yards and 16 TDs and rushing for 537 yards and five TDs.
He threw for 387 yards and five TDs in the playoff win against Huntington and for 311 yards and three scores against Woodrow Wilson.
“He understood the offense,’’ Mays said, “and became a better runner. He and I would sit there and talk and go through things in practice. He wanted it, too. He called up Kentre and would go over things in the offense. They shared things that he used to become a better quarterback.
“Going against Huntington and putting up the numbers he did — it wasn’t just a one-man show. He was spreading the ball around, and he hurt them with his feet both times we played.’’
Murphy turned in two games of 100-plus yards on the ground, rushing 15 times for 126 yards and one TD in a win against St. Albans and carrying 17 times for 119 yards and two TDs in a regular-season victory against Huntington.
Since Murphy has bulked up this season, adding 15 pounds to his frame (making him 5-foot-11 and 185), Mays thinks the offense can pick up where it left off last year.
“Just like our defense goes through [linebacker] Drew Joseph, our offense will go through Trae,’’ Mays said. “Understanding the offense is just part of it. It’s a growing pain for some kids, and we went through it last year. We struggled moving the ball, but started finding some things he does well.
“He had a little bit of a coming-out party versus Riverside in Week 4, and we started to see what Trae does well, and used parts of our offense to fit him.’’
South Charleston finally broke loose in its fourth game, a 48-7 conquest of Riverside, as the home run returned to the Black Eagles’ offense. Murphy broke off a 58-yard touchdown and lofted a 71-yard scoring pass to Derrek Pitts. Murphy ended that game with 85 yards rushing and was 7 of 13 passing for 211 yards and two TDs.
Mays weighed Murphy’s talents against two of SC’s recent quarterbacking standouts — Tyler Harris (2007-10) and Grier (2012-15).
“With [Murphy] being more of an option-style quarterback — run and pass parts — we molded him into what we really want out of a quarterback,’’ Mays said.
“It’s unique because though he’s not comparable to Tyler Harris, the things we can do with Trae are more like what we did with Tyler Harris. Kentre was more of a downfield passer and his quarterback runs were off read plays. With Tyler, the runs were more designed. Trae fits more into that mold, and he may take shots down the field as well.’’