Bowling Green, Ky. — Western Kentucky University opened its 90th football season and its first as one of the 120 schools who comprise the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) with a full team practice Monday night at Houchens Industries – L.T. Smith Stadium. The Hilltoppers, who have posted 12 consecutive winning seasons, open the 2008 season at Indiana on August 30.
WKU practiced from 6:00 p.m. – 8:15 p.m. with a total of 104 players participating. This was the first of four consecutive evening practices, as the team will also practice at 6:00 p.m. Tuesday – Thursday.
“Overall, tonight was definitely a positive. I don’t remember a first practice where we were able to get all our reps in, and everything we had scripted we got done tonight,” said Hilltopper head coach David Elson, who is set to begin his sixth season at the helm of the program. “I think that’s a combination of a couple things. Our offense understands that we want to be a control-the-tempo type offense. And we really coached up our defense on how we wanted to practice as far as not grabbing guys — and they did a really good job of that today. If we can keep that up consistently through camp, then we’ll be in good shape.”
Tempo will continue to be the theme throughout camp as WKU begins its second season running a spread offense.
“When offenses are good a changing speeds, it can really give teams fits on defense,” said Elson. “Practicing this way also helps with conditioning. We’ve got to be able to win some games in the fourth quarter, so practicing at this tempo should mean the games will slow down and be easy for them.”
Players reported on Sunday, but due to summer school still being in session, coaches and players had to wait until the evening to finally strap on helmets and take to the field.
“We’re giving our guys the morning to focus on academics this first week,” Elson added. “Then we’re able to start our meetings early in the afternoon, get on the field in the evening, then have a later dinner together after practice.”
Along with the challenges of a new season and new faces in camp, everyone involved in Hilltopper football has made the adjustment to new surroundings as operations were recently moved into the new west side of the stadium. The new side has also added a different dynamic to practices.
“It’s definitely louder in here. You can already tell that this is going to be a great gameday experience. “said Elson. “There was some noise issues just with us hooting and hollering, but that’s just going to help us with some of the places we’ll play on the road. It feels a lot more like college football with both sides of the stadium.
That new gameday atmosphere will be on display five times this season, beginning with a Sept. 20 date against Murray State. The Toppers’ other four home dates will be against FBS teams as they finish their last year of transition before becoming full-fledged members of the Sun Belt Conference.
WKU has an all-time 14-9 mark in post-season action including the 2002 I-AA National Championship. The Hilltoppers will be eligible to win the Sun Belt and participate in a bowl game beginning in 2009.