BOZEMAN, Mont. - The Montana State football team kicked off spring practice Wednesday morning at Bobcat Stadium.
The Cats went 4-7 in their first year under head coach Jeff Choate, but MSU won its final two games of the season and looks to be riding that momentum into the spring.
"It's just amazing what a difference a year makes, just in terms of these kids' familiarity with us and how we want to do things," Choate said. "I can tell the growth in them and the maturity in them. Their discipline seems to be better, and they're playing with better body position. It's exciting to get out here."
There was plenty of excitement in the air, especially for assistant Brian Armstrong, who was promoted from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator in the offseason.
"It was like game day," Armstrong said. "I don't think I slept at all last night, and I was up at 5 a.m. It was fun, it's always fun. The kids have a lot of energy the first day, and they're running around pretty well. We've got a long, long way to go, but it was fun to be out here doing some football stuff, rather than watching them push weight around."
Eight starters return on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Chris Murray, the reigning Big Sky Freshman of the Year.
"It feels great to actually have a full year with the whole team, so we can develop better chemistry," Murray said. "This offseason I definitely grew more in understanding defenses way, way better, and I think that really helped me. My job this upcoming season is to get us to the playoffs, and that's the only goal I have -- nothing individually, just team."
Murray ran for a Montana State freshman record 860 yards last season, with 12 rushing touchdowns.
He also passed for 778 yards and six more scores, but threw eight interceptions while completing just 44.8 percent of his passes.
New Bobcat quarterbacks coach and former MSU All-American DeNarius McGhee is helping Murray improve his mechanics, but he says becoming a better student of the game will also play a big role in Murray's development.
"I think the more comfortable he gets with the playbook and knowing what he's doing, the more he will be making plays," McGhee said. "When you make plays, then you have even more command over the guys around you."
Murray and the rest of the Cats squad have 13 more practices this spring to sharpen their skills before the Sonny Holland Classic, MSU's spring game, on April 22.