Seniors ready for final home game against rival MTSU

Sam Porter

On Friday night, one of the more successful senior classes in WKU football history will play its last game at Houchens-Smith Stadium when the Hilltoppers host rival Middle Tennessee State.

Following a three-game losing streak, the unit’s final home game hasn’t arrived quite the way many of those players envisioned. At this time of the year the past couple of seasons, the Hilltoppers were looking to wrap up the Conference-USA East division and a berth in the C-USA championship game. Now, the Hilltoppers need to win one of their last two games to become bowl eligible, and likely need to win both games to guarantee that 13th game.

“This senior class has a chance to be the first senior class [of the FBS Era] to beat Middle Tennessee three out of four times which would be a tremendous accomplishment,” head coach Mike Sanford said. “This is one of those legacy-type games that defines your class’ legacy, and that’s the challenge for these seniors.”

Some of those players played under three different head coaches, some are hometown natives and some transferred from another university and made an immediate impact.

One of the most notable of the players playing their final game in Bowling Green on Friday is redshirt senior quarterback Mike White, who is second in program history in career touchdown passes with 54. White transferred to WKU from South Florida, and after sitting out one season due to transfer rules, won the starting job after former WKU quarterback Nelson Fishback suffered a season ending injury before the season even started.

White took the job and ran with it, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2016 while leading WKU to its second consecutive C-USA Championship.

As a result, White earned C-USA Offensive Player of the Year preseason honors in 2017, and currently leads the C-USA in passing yards.

“It was the best decision I’ve ever made and I stand behind that,” White said. “I came in as a transfer and outcast. I didn’t know the people or the town. This place did a great job of welcoming and me and treating me like their own. We’ve won some championships and lost some heartbreakers. Everything that comes with the sport of football has happened on that field.”

Two other notable players playing their final game at Houchens-Smith Stadium are two of White’s favorite targets. One is Cameron Echols-Luper, a graduate transfer who made Bowling Green his third and final home during his college career. The former TCU Horned Frog has emerged as of late, catching 19 passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns in the last three games he has dressed.

Another notable senior receiver is a player the city of Bowling Green has been familiar with for a long time.

Nacarius Fant is a hometown player who has caught a team high 46 passes in 2017 and developed a chemistry with White before either of them found themselves in the starting lineup.

“He was the very first person I talked to when I came here,” White said of Fant.

“He said, ‘We’re lucky to have you on campus. Just let me know when, and I’ll meet you and we’ll start working.’ That’s the kind of mindset Nacarius has, that’s how he’s made his legacy. He’s our utility guy, especially on third down. When we need a big play on third down, I’m finding wherever No. 1 is.”

On the defensive side of the ball, seniors such as defensive lineman Derik Overstreet and cornerbacks Joe Brown and Leverick Johnson have helped a defense improve each year over the past three seasons. The Hilltoppers have given up an average of 186.8 passing yards a game in 2017, a drastic improvement after giving up 279 yards per game in 2016.

The senior class has gone 36-15 over the past four years including this season, and will have the opportunity to push its postseason record to 6-0 if the Hiltoppers can qualify for a bowl game and win.

“This senior class has stuck together and been through a lot,” redshirt junior defensive tackle Julien Lewis said. “I’ve sort of gotten to to grow with them. Some of them are in my class, some are in the class before. No matter what, everybody is going to do their best to help them leave with a happy mindset.”

Reporter Sam Porter can be reached at 270-799-8247 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @SammyP14.