‘Be consistent’: WKU aiming to solidify receiver situation as season looms

WKU wide-receiver Terez Traynor (85) catches a pass during practice practice on the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 26, 2019 at the Houchens-Smith Stadium.

Alec Jessie

The WKU football team has finally made it to game week and is ready to battle another team. The Hilltoppers are set to open the season Thursday against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Central Arkansas.

With the season nearly here, first-year head coach Tyson Helton has
a majority of his starting positions locked down on both sides of the ball.

Helton ended months of speculation when he announced last week that redshirt junior Steven Duncan had defeated graduate transfer Ty Storey in the battle for the starting quarterback spot.

“I felt it was a very close battle,” Helton said. “Both him and Ty Storey were pretty even to be honest with you. Told both of those guys I’m going with my first instinct and that was to run out Steven out there.”

Duncan will look to build upon his 2018 season, in which he threw for 1,071 yards and nine touchdowns. Helton said Storey will play this year, but Duncan is the clear starter for now.

“Steven needs to know, ‘Hey, I’m the quarterback; I need to feel comfortable,’” Helton said. “He needs to get in a rhythm. So that’s the first thing, trying to find a rhythm for Steven.”

With the quarterback position no longer in flux, Helton has most of his starters nailed down on offense — the offensive line returns key upperclass men Miles Pate and Seth Joest. The running backs will likely be rotated throughout the season to minimize injuries, and redshirt junior Kyle Fourtenbary will aim to continue the tradition of talented WKU tight ends.

Returning defensive coordinator Clayton White also has most of his defensive rotation locked down. Junior DeAngelo Malone and redshirt sophomore Juwuan Jones return on the defensive line and will both look to improve on their impressive 2018 seasons. Devon Key will lead the secondary, while Kyle Bailey will be tasked with leading the linebacker group.

WKU added a key transfer this June in former Georgia linebacker Jaden Hunter, but Hunter is still waiting to hear from the NCAA on whether or not he will be immediately eligible to play this season. Helton said he is hopeful a decision will be made soon.

“We have applied for the waiver,” Helton said. “Georgia is also in the process of working with us on that. The NCAA has a lot to deal with right now. I think our compliance team has done a great job with this. I’m hoping we can get a decision by the end of this week.” 

At time of publication, no ruling had been handed down regarding Hunter’s 2019 status.

This leaves just one position group still in flux: wide receivers.

Senior Lucky Jackson is the easy candidate to lead the group. Jackson has played a major role in the offense for several seasons. He set a career high in receiving yards in 2017 with 600 and set career highs in 2018 with 50 receptions and four touchdowns.

Jackson told the Herald at WKU’s media day last month that he has a leadership role to take up heading into 2019.

“I’ve been here for a little while and there’s things I know from playing experience of guys that were before me,” Jackson said on July 30. “Stuff that I can teach the young guys that are coming behind me.”

But after Jackson, there is not a clear hierarchy. Quin Jernighan, Jacquez Sloan and Xavier Lane all mixed in last season, but they did not separate themselves from the pack in 2018. With the addition of former running back Garland LaFrance, a new freshman class and redshirts from a season ago, the situation is quite fluid with just days until kickoff.

Lane, a redshirt junior, hopes to be one of the receivers to step up. After catching just seven balls for 55 yards in 2018, Lane used the off-season to better himself off the field.

“In the spring, I was trying to work on myself,” Lane said at media day. “My attitude, just trying to be a leader, not just vocally, but just doing it.”

Receivers coach Chris Chestnut told the Herald at media day there was a void to fill at receiver, and he has used spring ball and fall camp to bolster the unit.

“Absolutely,” Chestnut said regarding the void. “Just going through the whole spring, my guys know where we stand, where stand with them. I thought they had a great spring. There were some guys that pushed Lucky [Jackson], which was good. There’s a lot of good competition in that room.”

Chestnut said his expectation for the receivers this season is simple.

“Be consistent,” Chestnut said. “Be consistent with what we do. Be consistent throughout the season. That’s one of the things I’ve talked to them about. I’ve preached to them, be consistent the whole season. Continue to make big plays.”

Freshman Manny Allen will not be one of the receivers in the fold this fall. Allen entered the transfer portal on June 18 but was still listed on the roster heading into fall camp. Last week, Helton announced the former four-star recruit won’t be part of the program in 2019.

“Manny is not with us,” Helton said. “I don’t anticipate Manny being here at the start of school. My best wishes to him; he’s a great kid. But who knows—we may see Manny Allen again one day but we may not.

As of right now, he will not be with us. Helton said earlier in fall camp he was very happy with the progression of his other receivers.

“I thought they’ve done a really good job,” Helton said. “From the start of camp to now, especially tonight, really showed how far they’ve come.”

Helton also reiterated that multiple receivers will be counted on in 2019.

“We’re gonna count on about six or seven guys,” Helton said. “We’re gonna roll in there. It’s not one or two guys. It’s gonna be spread around to multiple guys.”

The responsibility of leading the Hilltoppers to victory will not fall squarely on any one position group. The receiving corps’ first chance to impress the coaching staff comes in Thursday night’s game against UCA. Kickoff at Houchens-Smith Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m.

Reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.