Bowling Green, Ky. — After practicing in full pads for the first time on Friday, the Western Kentucky University football team was back out on the field bright and early Saturday morning for the sixth practice of fall camp. For the third straight day, the Hilltoppers practiced as a full squad. Anticipation for the 2012 season continues to build, as WKU will kick off the year in exactly three weeks when it hosts Austin Peay on Sept. 1. The Hilltoppers will hold their first two-a-day session on Sunday.
The Real Test Begins — After four days of working out in shorts, and then shells, head coach Willie Taggart was ready to see how his squad reacted to full pads on Friday.
“Football tests your manhood when you put the pads on. Everyone’s a hero when we’re out here in shorts, but now they have to run and anticipate getting hit. It makes you think a little bit. The guys that can get over that, and the ones that like a little pain are the guys that have a chance to be successful.”
Saturday morning, the third-year coach was happy with the early results.
“Friday was a really good practice,” said Taggart. “Offensively, we threw the ball down the field and executed well. The defense was able to buckle down during our ‘move the ball’ period and didn’t let us get in the end zone a couple times. I thought on both sides of the ball we did some really good things.”
Building a Pro Mentality — Another step in the building of a program is the way a team practices. For Taggart, his goal now that the pads are on is to not only be efficient in what gets done during practice, but also to keep guys on their feet and healthy.
“We always talk about practicing like pros. When you go to a pro practice you see those guys flying around but staying upright,” explained Taggart. “That’s what we want to do here early on in pads. Now that we have the pads on, we want to continue to see these guys execute like they did early in the week.”
Defense Continues To Grow — For the first time in a few years, members of the Hilltopper defense finally have some familiarity with schemes and techniques early in camp. After shuffling defensive coordinators yearly for a handful of seasons, WKU is in its second straight year under Lance Guidry. Couple that with a veteran group, and expectations are high for the Topper defense in 2012.
“The guys are retaining the defense well from past installs. We just have to keep getting better every day,” said Guidry. “We improved in a lot of areas last year, but still gave up too many big plays — especially early in the season — and that’s something we‘re looking to correct during camp. It helps when you have some talented players on your defense, and we‘ve got some guys that have a chance to play at the next level.”
Still Checking In With Bobby — There was a bit of a buzz arounHilltopper Football this week as former All-America running back Bobby Rainey made his NFL debut in the first preseason game of the year with the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night. WKU’s all-time leading rusher seemed to pick up right where he left off at the end of his collegiate career, rushing for 36 yards, and catching three passes — including one for an 18-yard touchdown. None of that came as a surprise to any of his former teammates and coaches, who know what the Griffin, Ga., product is capable of.
“Bobby was big time,” Taggart said with a smile. “I always say ‘Bobby’s Bobby’. From what I hear he’s been doing great things throughout training camp, and I have no doubt that he will make that team. He wants to make everyone in the NFL know his name, and he’s off to a good start with that.”