Playing loud and leading quietly: Fant primed for big season

Junior wide receiver Nacarius Fant runs with the ball after catching it during the Hilltoppers’ Red-White game on Saturday, April 23 at Smith Stadium. Shaban Athuman/HERALD

Evan Heichelbech

Ask almost anyone who works with him on a daily basis and they’ll tell you that Nacarius Fant is not a vocal guy.

Watch one minute of the junior wide receiver’s high school highlight tape, and you’ll notice that for an allegedly quiet man off the field, Fant is a considerably boisterous man on it.

“I wouldn’t say he’s a very loud kid, he leads by example more,” wide receivers coach Bryan Ellis said. “He just shows up every day and he works hard, and to be honest with you that’s the type of kid I really like to coach.”

As a senior in high school, Fant was the type of kid a lot of coaches wanted to coach. The 5-9, 2013 Kentucky Mr. Football Award Winner was heavily recruited out of Bowling Green High School.

While his only official offers came from WKU and Illinois, Fant garnered interest from schools such as Tennessee, Notre Dame and Ohio State, according to 247Sports. But for Fant, the decision to commit to his hometown school was an easy one.

“All my family is here,” Fant said. “They’re able to come to every game, and they’re just two minutes away. Playing at Bowling Green High School and basically coming right across the street and playing at the next level, there’s nothing better than that.”

Choosing to come here was easy for Fant, but it took him some time to get adjusted to the college level. As a freshman, he played sparingly, appearing in just four games and picking up a lot along the way.

“Obviously as a freshman you don’t always come into the next level and play, but I had to do a lot more than I thought coming in, which meant learning more about the game, getting faster and learning the defenses,” Fant said. “There’s a lot more to the college level than there is in high school.”

It wasn’t a talent or skill issue for Fant as he transitioned to a higher level of competition. All of that was already there.

“I could see when he first got here that he was really skilled,” senior wide receiver Nicholas Norris said. “He had a lot of natural ability, but now I can see that he’s become more of a technician. He’s been working on his technique and polishing things that he needs to do to become a better player.”

Fant saw a slight uptick in action during his sophomore season, playing in every game for the Hilltoppers and recording 213 all-purpose yards on the season. But his growth from year one to two was bigger than some changes on the stat sheet.

“His strengths are obvious,” Ellis said. “He’s a great catcher of the ball, which most receivers should be, but it’s a lot harder than you’d think. He’s very aware of his surroundings and understands spacing and routes. There are little things about playing receiver that are hard to teach that he’s just a natural at.”

Fant expanded his game beyond the wide receiver position last season. As a sophomore, he was the only player to record statistics in the rushing, receiving, punt returning, kick returning and passing categories.

“He’s kind of like our quarterback out there,” Ellis said. “We trust him enough to put the ball in his hands in situations that most wideouts aren’t used to.”

Fant was WKU’s second-leading passer in 2015, going 2-3 for 76 yards and two touchdowns. And while Fant was not one of the finalists for the 2016 quarterback job, he is expected to be a significant piece to the offensive puzzle.

“I feel like I’m ready for [a bigger role] coming into my junior year,” Fant said. “I should be. I feel like I’m capable of everything that coach Brohm’s going to have me do this entire season.”

With WKU’s all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdowns returning in senior wideout Taywan Taylor and Norris returning as the Hilltoppers’ number two receiver, Fant is prepared to start in the slot.

“I’m comfortable with where he’s come from last season to now,” Ellis said. “He’s become more conscientious of his weaknesses and knows how to play towards his strengths. I’m excited to watch him play on Thursday.”

The way in which Fant has progressed toward his increased role has been a testament to his work ethic and leadership style, according to his teammates.

“We all learn and take some things from each other,” Norris said. “I’m pretty sure he’s taken some things from me because I’ve sure taken some things from him as a football player. He doesn’t really say much and if he does, you might want to listen up.”

Whether he’s running a routine crossing route, diving for a first down or throwing a touchdown to his quarterback on a double pass in Thursday’s season-opener against Rice, Nacarius Fant will likely be making an impact—in a loud way.