As the 2016 season draws to a close for Western Kentucky, a few Hilltoppers are beginning to think of football after WKU.
Have they forgotten about the task at hand? Certainly not. But for guys like Taywan Taylor and Forrest Lamp, both considered potential NFL Draft picks, planning for the future is imperative.
“It’s something you dream about since you were a little kid, just hoping to see your name up and be at a big school like this and just see your name around the place,” Lamp said after WKU’s practice Wednesday. “You can’t let it go to your head. We’re just focused on the season right now and wanna finish out with a conference championship.”
Lamp (6-4, 300) said Wednesday he plans to accept an invitation to the Senior Bowl. The Venice, Fla., native is ProFootballFocus.com's top-graded offensive tackle in the country this season, earning an 87.4 rating overall and a 98.9 pass-block rating.
The senior is a three-time team captain and anchors the left tackle spot on WKU's offensive line, which was ranked No. 6 in the nation by PFF.
“It’s awesome. It’s something that you’ve been watching since you were a little kid watching that you wanted to be a part of your life,” Lamp said of his selection to the annual all-star game. “It’s a blessing and an honor, and hopefully I’ll go down there and have a good game and good week of practice.”
Twice this season, Lamp has been on ProFootballFocus.com's team of the week, including after his Week 2 performance against No. 1 Alabama when he allowed only one QB pressure in 40 pass block attempts. Through Week 8, that was Lamp's lone hurry allowed in 228 attempts, as he earned a spot on PFF's "Dream Team."
Projected to play guard at the next level, Lamp is considered the 19th-best prospect at that position and a seventh-round selection by CBSsports.com. He’s considered the 15th-best guard in the ’17 class by nfldraftscout.com.
“It’s two months away," he said of the Senior Bowl. "Right now we’re just worried about the season. My main focus is just winning another conference championship and going out my senior year the way we sent the seniors out last year. We only have three games left in my college career. I’m really gonna miss this place. I’m just trying to soak all this up right now.”
Taylor (6-1, 195) said he accepted his invitation to the Senior Bowl on Monday – the same day he was named a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award. The senior has caught 77 balls for 1,340 yards and 13 touchdowns this season and 232 for 3,844 yards and 37 scores over his 49-game career.
The Pleasure Ridge Park High School product is 10 receptions and 128 yards away from cracking his own single-season WKU records set in 2015.
Taylor is considered the 10th-best wide receiver in the 2017 draft class by nfldraftscout.com and the 22nd-best WR and a fifth-round selection by CBSsports.com. He’s third nationally with 1,340 receiving yards, fifth with 13 TD receptions, seventh with 121.8 receiving yards per game and 12th with seven catches per contest.
“It’s a blessing. It’s an honor to receive that invite,” Taylor said. “It’s a blessing just to be in that position to be one of the nominees for that game. I think it’s an honor and I’m excited for it. I’m ready to go down there and represent the Toppers.”
Of course, before Taylor and Lamp can seriously sit down and begin to formulate a gameplan for their respective NFL futures, they must help the Hilltoppers (8-3, 6-1 Conference USA) beat Marshall on Nov. 26 in Huntington, W. Va. A win that day (assuming Old Dominion wins at Florida Atlanticn on Saturday) gives WKU a second straight East Division title and rematch with Louisiana Tech.
The Tops are off this week before their season finale.
“The bye week has been good to this point,” WKU coach Jeff Brohm said. “We’ve kinda come out and worked on fundamentals and technique and getting back to the basics a little bit, but also giving our guys a little bit of a break. Not being too long with practices and trying to get on and off the field too quickly. Then, keeping the young guys out here and getting a lot of extra work.”
Brohm had three players – Brandon Doughty, Tyler Higbee and Prince Charles Iworah – drafted in 2016, and a fourth – George Fant – is now starting at left tackle for the Seattle Seahawks. Current quarterback Tyler Ferguson, linebacker Keith Brown, defensive end Nick Dawson-Brents, offensive linemen Darrell Williams and Max Halpin, running back Anthony Wales, wide receiver Nicholas Norris, safety Branden Leston, defensive tackle Omarius Bryant and long snapper Nolan Dolwing could all get a shot at professional football as well.
It's all part of the growth of the program under the third-year head coach.
"Any time we can get two players from our University and team to go to the senior bowl, that’s a huge accomplishment. Credit to them for all the hard work they put in," Brohm said. "They definable earned it. It’s a big deal. It is the biggest all-star game there is and I think it’s an opportunity for them to go there and showcase what they’re all about and represent our university. I think it’s tremendous for them and us.”
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop