Bowling Green, Ky. — Media members from around the region converged on Bowling Green Wednesday as the Western Kentucky University football team held its annual media day activities.
As third-year head coach Willie Taggart likes to describe them, the “infrastructure” of the Hilltoppers — their offensive and defensive line — were well represented as defensive linemen Jamarcus Allen and Quanterus Smith, offensive linemen Sean Conway and Adam Smith, and punter Hendrix Brakefield joined line coaches Walt Wells and Eric Mathies along with Taggart for interview sessions.
Coming off a 7-5 season, and finishing in second place in the Sun Belt Conference with a 7-1 record in 2011, the excitement and expectations surrounding WKU Football is at a level not seen in recent years. And the buzz heard around Bowling Green and the WKU campus does not go unnoticed by the players — especially those who went through those difficult times.
“This is the most I have seen the people in the community be excited for football since I have been here," said Allen, who has started 23 games on the defensive line over the last two season. “I am happy that everybody is excited. I know that we are happy. This is my senior year and a couple of other players’ senior year, and everything is just ‘football, football, football.’ Everybody is trying to get better, and I know we are expecting great things.”
With 19 starters returning from 2011, and a larger number of upperclassmen contributing than in recent years, there is an expectation that goes right along with the newly-discovered excitement level.
“We have some of the same goals as the defense,” said Adam Smith. “We want to be top 10 in the nation as well. We want to be top 10 in the nation in rushing and we want to be top 10 in the nation on offense. There is no reason we can’t.”
With that kind of mentality on both sides of the ball, it can only add to focus of not only practice, but the offseason workouts. That kind of intensity has not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.
“Having a good senior class gives us a chance to practice the way we want to practice,” explained Mathies, who is entering his eighth season on staff. “People just see the end result on Saturday. I see the process — steel sharpens steel. We are getting tougher, we are getting more physical.”
Considering where the program stood this time three years ago when Taggart returned to his alma mater, there is no question that the brightest days are still ahead for Hilltopper Football.
“For me personally, I always thought by year three, offensively, we would be where I wanted us to be,” Taggart explained. “I thought it would take by year three to figure out what was going on and get the right personnel in here. Our kids put us ahead of schedule in that process. I think it is only going to get better. I think we are going to be an exciting team to watch, both offensively and defensively.”
For WKU, that excitement will continue to build over the next 10 days as fall camp winds to a close, and game week for the Sept. 1 opener against Austin Peay becomes the main focus. The opening contest with the Governors will mark the first time since 2005 that the Hilltoppers have opened the season at home, and will be the first of six contests played at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium in 2012.