Behind Enemy Lines: Western Michigan football reporter Seth Berry breaks down the Broncos

Thousands of students gather for Broncos Bash at the start of each fall semester. The event is designed to assist freshmen on how to get involved on campus and become more comfortable with the WMU community.

Drake Kizer

The WKU football team (8-4, 6-2 C-USA) is set to meet fellow regional school Western Michigan (7-5, 5-3 MAC) for the first time since 1947 in the First Responder Bowl on Monday.

Ahead of the much-anticipated meeting between the Hilltoppers and Broncos in Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas, the Herald hosted an online Q&A session with Seth Berry, the sports editor and football reporter for the student newspaper at WMU, the Western Herald.

In addition, Berry authored a companion piece for the Western Herald that features the same questions as this interview with answers from the WKU perspective. Berry’s article, which previews and breaks down the Hilltoppers, can be accessed by clicking here.

Drake Kizer: Where is WMU located?

Seth Berry: WMU is located in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Kalamazoo is a southern city in Michigan with a population of over 76,000, which makes it the 16th biggest city in the state.

DK: What is WMU’s enrollment?

SB: Between undergraduates and graduate school students, 21,470 students were enrolled at WMU in the fall of 2019.

DK: What are some of the notable academic programs at WMU?

SB: WMU offers more than 140 programs, which provides a variety of options for students. I think one of the more unique programs at WMU is the aviation program.

The courses actually take place in Battle Creek, Michigan (my hometown) at W.K. Kellogg Airport, about 25 miles east of Kalamazoo. The program, from what I understand, ranks as one of the top in the nation. 

DK: What are the best college bars at WMU?

SB: University Roadhouse, which is directly across from the football stadium, is a go-to place for a lot of college students. Waldo’s, which has been around forever, is next to Roadhouse and attracts students and alumni alike. The Old Goat Tavern is another bar that students flock to during the school year.

DK: What is the go-to place for a midnight snack at WMU?

SB: Two Fellas Grill is the place to be for a quick bite late at night. Reasonably priced food and easy to take with you. They even offer late-night delivery if you can’t make it out to their location. Nothing like a good ole chicken tender wrap at midnight.

DK: What are some aspects of WMU’s campus culture that you enjoy?

SB: I think WMU has offered the support I need to be successful as a student with helpful professors and great academic counseling. The student atmosphere has allowed me to be comfortable being myself and to enjoy many friendships that I have made while being a student.

DK: What is WMU’s mascot?

SB: WMU has a Bronco for a mascot. The mascot’s name is Buster Bronco. Buster actually had a change in appearance a couple of years ago. It caused such a stir that some students actually protested the change in Buster’s look. It was actually quite amusing.

DK: Why the stir about the change in appearance of Buster Bronco?

SB: I think a lot of people just liked the way he looked before. The old Buster kind of looked like a more laid-back, fun-loving mascot, while the new one looks more fit, energetic and athletic.

There was a petition that gained over 1,600 signatures in support of bringing back the old Buster. Anytime you mess with “tradition,” I think people will get upset.

DK: What are WMU’s school colors?

SB: Brown and gold are the colors of WMU. 

DK: Any notable professional athletes from WMU?

SB: Greg Jennings, the long-time Green Bay Packers wide receiver, is a former Bronco and is the most decorated pro athlete to come out of the university.

Corey Davis, a wide receiver for the Tennessee Titans, also played at WMU. He became the highest drafted player ever out of the university, as the Titans selected him 5th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.

There are six other Broncos currently on NFL rosters (Darius Phillips, Taylor Moton, John Keenoy, Sam Beal, Chukwuma Okorafor and Robert Spillane), but there are no former Broncos playing in the NBA.

DK: How has WMU fared in sports other than football this fall?

SB: The WMU men’s soccer team accomplished something they had never done before in the history of the program, as the Broncos defeated both Michigan and Michigan State during the regular season for the first time ever.

The team fell short in the Mid-American Conference Tournament with a tough loss to West Virginia, but they finished with an 11-6-2 overall record and spent several weeks of the regular season ranked in the national polls.

DK: What are some key things WMU football does well, and who are some impact players to watch out for during the First Responder Bowl?

SB: They do a lot of things well on offense, as they rank 22nd in the nation in total offense. They can beat you with both the run and the pass, which is a big reason they are averaging 34.2 points per game (25th in the nation).

Senior Jon Wassink is a veteran quarterback that head coach Tim Lester trusts to control the offense and change the plays when needed. Senior running back LeVante Bellamy, who was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year, leads the nation with 23 rushing touchdowns and is one of the most dynamic offensive players in college football. Senior Giovanni Ricci is a big tight end who is a threat as a pass catcher, and true freshman Skyy Moore has stepped up to be Wassink’s go-to player in the passing game.

On defense, they give up a lot of yards, but do a decent job of tightening up in the red zone once teams get close to the end zone. The Broncos rotate in a lot of guys on the defensive line to keep fresh in their pass rush. Junior linebacker Treshaun Hayward, the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, leads the team with 132 tackles, plays fast and is quick to the ball.

They will give up big plays as a unit at times, and were much better at home this season than on the road. In total, they rank 82nd in total defense, so the offense is definitely the stronger unit.

DK: What is your prediction for the First Responder Bowl?

SB: I think this is going to be a tight one. From what I can tell, the Hilltoppers clearly have a good defense and they have been solid at stopping the run all season long.

Teams have been trying to put more numbers in the box to defend Bellamy in the running game and have been challenging WMU’s young receivers to get open in man coverage in the secondary. If WKU can slow down Bellamy, it will be up to Wassink to make some plays with both his arm and his feet. He is capable of doing that, but it makes it more difficult to be balanced if Bellamy is slowed.

For WKU’s offense, it surely seems like running back Gaej Walker is a dynamic player and quarterback Ty Storey being a dual-threat option under center could also pose problems for the Broncos. But the 25 points per game on offense is a little underwhelming to me. If WMU’s front, which can rotate multiple players into the game, can slow down the Hilltopper running game, I also think they can have success.

That being said, I have WKU winning in a hard-fought game and claiming a tight, lower-scoring 27-24 battle in Dallas on Dec. 30.

DK: One more question — what is your favorite story you’ve written for the Western Herald, and why?

SB: My favorite story I have written was actually a profile story on a current WMU men’s basketball player, Mike Flowers. His mother tragically passed away from a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer during his freshman season (he is a junior now), and for him to open up to me about that showed a lot of courage on his part, I thought.

To hear how his mom would still travel and come to his games even when she was sick was inspiring and just hearing about how he plays for and thinks about her every day still.

I think those are the types of stories you get into this business for, to tell the inspiring stories of those around us and to help come together and support each other.

Editor’s note: Some questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Sports Editor Drake Kizer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Drake on Twitter at @drakekizer_.