Several fresh faces emerge in season opener

Head coach Mike Sanford leads the team out of the tunnel at the start of the first half of the WKU – EKU football game on Saturday, Sept. 2 at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

Sam Porter


When a program loses several key players from the year before, it either rebuilds or reloads. The biggest question entering last Saturday’s opener against EKU was whether WKU would struggle at positions where it lost the bulk of its production such as wide receiver, tight end and running back.

Several players made their first career start looking to play well enough to lock up a starting spot.

“Schematically, we still have a lot of bullets left in the chamber and it’ll change week to week,” head coach Mike Sanford said. “We will not look similar formationally and with some of the play calls week-to-week. It’ll change dramatically.”

In his fifth career start, redshirt junior running back D’Andre Ferby began his reign as the outright No. 1 running back on the depth chart. The Ensworth High School product ran for 57 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Although he found the end zone twice, Ferby’s average of three yards per carry is a step down from former running back Anthony Wales’ 6.8 yards per carry last year. Ferby was also battling a minor ankle injury.

“I was very encouraged with D’Andre Ferby coming out of that game 100 percent,” Sanford said. “I thought he was dancing a little bit in the backfield and I wanted to see him accelerate through the hole.”

In the second half, backup running back Marquezz Trigg saw significant playing time. The Glasgow native led WKU with 61 yards on 16 carries. During WKU’s final scoring drive, Trigg ran the football 10 times for 42 yards and punched it in from one-yard out on fourth and goal to give WKU a 31-14 lead.

“He’s going to be a really good back,” Sanford said about Trigg. “Now we get to throw in a change-of-pace back with elite speed. That’s going to be a very good group. They played well today and they’ll play better next week.”

That change of pace in the running game will come via the return of Quinton Baker. The sophomore running back sat out the opening game due to suspension.

At the wide receiver position, redshirt sophomore Lucky Jackson broke out as one of quarterback Mike White’s favorite targets. The Lexington native caught five passes for a career high 144 yards including a 66-yard touchdown catch in the first half.

Jackson caught 26 passes for 395 yards and two touchdowns last season, and will look to emerge as the top receiver after the departure of Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris.

“His play obviously speaks for itself. But some of you don’t know about just the kind of guy he is,” White said about Jackson. “When you see someone like him be successful, you can’t help but smile because he deserves it. He comes in every day with that attitude whether it’s 5 a.m. workouts when people are dead tired or four in the afternoon. He comes in with the same attitude. He’s an energy spark for our team and he’s a hard worker. You’ll see a lot more of Lucky Jackson.”

At the tight end position, redshirt senior Deon Yelder made the start after not catching a pass in a Hilltopper uniform his first four years. Yelder earned a scholarship this past spring and will look to continue as a mainstay in the passing game. The former special teams star caught four passes for 40 yards in his debut as a starter.

“Yelder, he’s a real ball player,” Sanford said. “We didn’t put him on scholarship as a feel good story. It’s because he’s a dang good football player that works his butt off and he’s getting confidence every day.”

The Hilltoppers defeated EKU 31-17 on Saturday and travel to Champaign, Illinois this Saturday for a matchup against the University of Illinois. The Hilltoppers will look to get their first win over a Big Ten opponent in school history.

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