Hilltoppers eager for season opener against Rice

Redshirt junior quarterback Mike White (14) throws as backups graduate student quarterback Tyler Ferguson (7) and redshirt sophomore quarterback Drew Eckels (4) watch during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 30, at Smith Stadium. Kelsea Hobbs/HERALD

Evan Heichelbech

After almost nine months, WKU will play a football game in its own stadium. For senior left tackle and co-captain Forrest Lamp, it’s been a long time coming.

“We haven’t played a game in over 250 days,” Lamp said. “Hopefully we can sell out the Houch. We love it when it’s sold out and all the fans are there.”

Head Coach Jeff Brohm didn’t mention whether or not he was counting down the days to Thursday’s season-opener, but he did express his excitement to see his team compete on opening night.

“We’re definitely excited to get the season underway,” Brohm said. “It’s been a long, hard camp for us, so it’s good to finally get a chance to play a different team. We have some new pieces to the puzzle and we’re ready to plug those guys in and see how they do.”

While Lamp — who has been named to watch lists for the Rotary Lombardi Award and the Outland and Wuerffel trophies — has been a solidified starter since he decided to return to school for his senior season, another position was still being finalized as recently as six days ago.

On Friday, University of South Florida transfer and redshirt junior Mike White was named as the starting quarterback for Thursday’s opener against Rice.

“We’re excited about Mike White,” Brohm said. “I think he’s ready to play. He’s a guy who knows our offense and has a good grasp of concepts. I think he’s ready for this challenge and looking forward to it.”

Since WKU’s Dec. 6, 2015, Miami Beach Bowl victory over White’s former school, it had been long discussed and debated as to who would replace Brandon Doughty as the Hilltoppers’ next starting quarterback.

When experienced redshirt senior Nelson Fishback went down with a season-ending pectoral injury in June, the starting competition was narrowed down to a three-man race between White, graduate transfer Tyler Ferguson and redshirt sophomore Drew Eckels.

Now that White is the man, the offense is ready to move forward and establish an identity.

“We were happy and excited to finally get a starter named,” Lamp said. “Coach Brohm did a great job of letting those guys compete. It’s nice to have a name though so we can focus on this week and be comfortable with whoever is back there.”

The first chance for Lamp, White and the rest of the offense to showcase what they can do as a unit comes against a Rice team that returns a total of 17 starters from a season ago.

“From what we’ve studied, I think Rice is going to be a hungry team, ready to showcase what they’re all about,” Brohm said. “The strength of Rice’s football team is they’re tough, they play hard and they’re very smart. We’re going to have to find a way to at least match that.”

While Brohm has been preparing his offense for any looks that Rice’s defense may give them, senior linebacker Drew Davis and the Topper defense have been preparing for a Rice offense that is trying to rebrand itself after struggling to consistently put up points a season ago.

“[Rice] recently promoted [its] wide receivers coach to offensive coordinator,” Davis said. “His mantra this year is an up-tempo pace so I definitely think we have to prepare with an up-tempo offense. Coaches have been doing a great job with giving everybody reps, because it’s hard to keep the same 11 guys on the field versus an offense of that sort.”

Regardless of the outcome, Thursday’s nationally-televised game provides WKU with a big opportunity to open the season.

“It’s a big stage for us,” Davis said. “Last season we broke onto the national stage, so there will be a lot of eyes on us from our TV exposure. It gives you extra motivation to do all the little things right.”

Reporter Evan Heichelbech can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @evanheich.