WKU Football camp begins, season opener less than a month away

Head Coach Tyson Helton on the field for the first day of camp at Houchens-Smith Stadium in 2020.

Casey Warner

Monday marked the start of fall camp for the Hilltopper Football program after it was originally slated to begin August 5. 

Following the first fall camp session, head coach Tyson Helton, junior defensive end Juwan Jones and junior offensive tackle Cole Spencer spoke to the media via Zoom.

“It was a really good first day,” Helton said. “I think every college coach in America is happy when they can get out on the field for the first day. The players had a really good bounce in their step.” 

Helton confirmed that some of his players have tested positive for COVID-19 and have opted out of the season.

“We’ve had positive cases throughout the summer, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, pretty regular just like everyone in college football…” Helton said.

A concern the second year coach had is how can he still develop a player when that athlete opts out of the season. 

“We are still going to train them, still going to keep them interacted as much as we can. We have to be very careful about the health and safety side,” Helton said.

With four out of 10 football subdivision conferences canceling their fall football seasons, there’s reason to be pessimistic, however, that is not the attitude Helton has.

“As long as we have honesty and communication from both sides, we’re always going to be okay,” Helton said. “We don’t have any problems having hard conversations.”

The difficult conversations are abundant in this time of uncertainty in college football. WKU has already lost two opponents to its original 12-game schedule this upcoming season. 

Although the season may look bleak for some schools across the nation, the Hilltoppers have no reason to believe their season is in dire jeopardy as the Conference USA has stated it is moving forward with its fall football season.

“I’ve been really proud of my players communicating concerns and those things. Once we get on the field and practice our guys are really excited,” Helton said. “They don’t think of anything other than just playing football.” 

WKU has recently launched a new COVID-19 case dashboard that will be updated weekly to include confirmed cases within the whole campus community.

Despite the concerns surrounding COVID-19 being a major priority, the Hilltoppers season opener is just three weeks from Saturday. 

Helton praised the opportunity to get to play in-state schools like the University of Louisville.

“I’ve always said I wish we all could play at some point. Western would love to play Louisville or Kentucky every year,” Helton said. “It’ll be a great opener.”

Although the season opener for WKU is just under a month away, a decision on who the starting quarterback will be has not been announced yet. 

Graduate transfer Tyrell Pigrome and junior Davis Shanley are thought to be the favorites for the job, but Helton did not budge when asked who will win the starting position.

“All of our quarterbacks are doing a nice job. We are going to have to give a guy more reps,” Helton said. “We need to get through about a week or so and then start pushing forward with who the guy might be.”

While the starting quarterback spot is still up for grabs, one position is certainly solidified. Returning defensive ends DeAngelo Malone and Juwan Jones are locked in on each side of the defensive line.

“I feel a little underrated. Last year I didn’t get any attention and I had stats better than a lot of defensive ends in our conference,” Jones said. “This year I got something to prove.”

With playmakers like Jones back and hungry for a better season than last year it is fair to believe the Hilltoppers will have a good chance at competing for a C-USA Championship.

Jones elaborated on his team’s main goal this season.

“Coach White always says take it one game at a time. We’re going to do that first and foremost,” Jones said. “Championships are obviously the goal, but also getting back to the top and showing people what we’re about.”

Junior left tackle Cole Spencer returns as one of four that are back from WKU’s starting offensive line unit from last season. Spencer believes he and his blocking teammates know the leadership they must bring to the table.

“Coach Goff tells us all the time the team goes how we go, so we have to understand that,” Spencer said. “We’re all older guys and a lot of people will look to us for leadership.”

With the 2020 season inching closer, the Hilltoppers will prepare for in-state foe Louisville in the coming weeks.

Barring any more COVID-19 setbacks, the season is set to begin three weeks from Saturday at Cardinal Stadium as the Cardinals host WKU in a rematch of last year’s battle which saw Louisville emerge victorious 38-21. 

Football beat reporter Casey Warner can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @thecaseywarner.