Newcomers look to reload Hilltopper defense

December 21, 2015: Western Kentucky linebacker Nick Holt (10) tackles a South Florida player during the first half of the Miami Beach Bowl at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida, on Monday, Dec. 21, 2015. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Jonah Phillips

After an undefeated season in the Conference USA last year that resulted in a conference championship and a bowl victory, the Hilltopper football program is looking to reload and refocus for next season.

Of the 23 departing Hilltoppers from the 2015-16 squad, 13 are defensive players: five defensive lineman, five defensive backs and three linebackers.  These graduates include Nick Holt, Wonderful Terry, Prince Charles Iworah, Nick Newton, Jontavious Morris, Dejon Brown and Ge’Monee Brown.

The large-scale losses to the defensive unit left Head Coach Jeff Brohm and defensive coordinator Nick Holt needing drastic reinforcements immediately for depth and for future seasons.

As the National Signing Day window opened at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, the Hilltoppers announced within hours that a slew of recruits had officially signed, seven of whom are already enrolled in classes as college transfers or early high school graduates.

“I think all of our guys were committed for the right reasons,” Brohm said. “They understand the product on the field that we have been able to produce the past two years.”

As of time of publication, WKU had announced the successful recruitment and signing of 16 players — three of them transfers — but Brohm said he is both confident and hopeful of using all the allotted 25 scholarships the program is allowed to award. Of those 20 players who signed with the program, exactly half of them are billed as defensive players — assuming none will make a positional switch like Joe Brown did last season from running back to defensive back.

More specifically, within these 10 defensive additions, Brohm and Holt were able to address some serious needs on the defensive line.

The five new defensive line recruits follow: 6’3, 260-pound University of Louisville transfer Nick Dawson Brents; 6’2, 290-pound Chris Johnson from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College; 6’3, 230-pound two-star recruit Anthony Robinson out of Frankfort High School; 6’2, 300-pound three-star recruit Jalen Madden our of Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and 6’2, 285-pound three-star recruit Jeremy Darvin of Nashville’s Father Ryan High School.

“It’s always important to get defensive lineman,” Brohm said. “Jeremy Davin and Jalen Madden give us size, strength and girth up front, which is hard to get.”

Just hours after the window opened, the Hilltoppers had replaced four of their five departed defensive lineman. Even more efficiently, they had already replaced all three of their departed linebackers.

The three additions to the WKU linebacker core include 6’1, 235-pound U of L transfer Keith Brown, 6’1, 210-pound three-star recruit Demetrius Cain out of Caldwell County High School and 6’3, 230-pound two-star recruit Drew O’Bryan from Ashland-Blazer.

“The graduate transfers from Louisville are huge to have,” Brohm said. “Those are two guys that when they walk in the room they are going to stand out. Those are two guys we feel great about.”

Cain managed to record three interceptions and 25 tackles, 17 solo, on the defensive side of the football during his senior season. O’Bryan notched 109 total tackles with 16 for a loss for Ashland Blazer.

Two defensive backs have been added to the ranks: 6’0, 180-pound two-star recruit Gaej Walker from Gibsonton, Florida, and 6’1, 190-pound two-star recruit Devon Key from Bryan Station High School in Lexington.

“We are really, really excited about Gaej Walker,” secondary coach Mike Cassity said. “He is a cornerback that is 6-foot and very long. He has good arm length, and man can he run.”

The defense will look to reload in time for the Hilltoppers’ first game, which is slated to be played on Sept. 3 2016.