Hilltoppers confident heading into 2015

WKU’s head footbal coach Jeff Brohm encourages the team after WKU’s Red vs. White spring football game Saturday, April 18, 2015, at Houchens Industries L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Ky. Mike Clarke/HERALD ARCHIVE

Billy Rutledge

The 2014 season was a year of firsts for the WKU Football team. The Hilltoppers defeated their first ranked FBS opponent (No. 19 Marshall), won their first FBS bowl game (Popeyes Bahamas Bowl vs. Central Michigan) and set or tied 49 school and conference records on their way to an 8-5 record.

The 2015 Hilltoppers feel like they can do better than that.

A confident group of student-athletes just completed their fall camp, and their first opponent—Southeastern Conference member Vanderbilt— is waiting for them, just over a week away. 

“I think our guys are ready for the season. I think that this is exactly where we want to be,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “We want some pressure to be put on us to succeed and win at a high level and I think that is what this program needs to do is to continue to move forward and take that next step and I think with this schedule and the challenges ahead of us, we have to play at a high level to win.”

Experience plays a key role in why the Hilltoppers feel this season could be great. WKU returns 52 letter-winners, including seven offensive and nine defensive starters. Statistically, WKU returns 99.3% of total offense including quarterback Brandon Doughty, who just completed one of the best seasons in college football history.

The redshirt senior, who was granted a sixth-year of eligibility from the NCAA, returns after leading the nation in passing yards (4,830) and touchdowns (49) in 2014. 

His dominate season included ten games in which he threw for more than 300 yards, and five separate occasions in which he threw for five touchdowns or more.

Doughty was named one of six team captains earlier this month, along with seniors tackle Forrest Lamp, tight end Tyler Higbee, defensive end Gavin Rocker, linebacker Nick Holt and defensive back Wonderful Terry. 

“Being a team captain is a big responsibility, all the teammates hold you accountable,” Higbee said. “You have to be a leader and always make the right choices, do the right things and show them the right path whether it be verbal or nonverbal, just by your actions. I’ve taken control of the role and I’m excited to lead this team into battle.”

The offense isn’t the only side of the ball that is exciting Hilltopper fans for the 2015 season. The defense has already started turning heads at training camp. 

Returning nine defensive starters, depth and leadership are two qualities that the coaching staff hope improves a unit that ranked near the bottom in all statistical categories last season.

Key defensive players include Terry, a Second Team All-Conference USA selection; Rocker, who lead all defensive lineman with 45 tackles and 5.5 sacks last season; and linebackers Holt and senior Dejon Brown. The duo combined for 189 tackles and 15 tackles for loss in 2014.

“On the defensive side, we have some good leaders and it showed today,” Defensive coordinator Nick Holt said after WKU’s second scrimmage of the fall. 

“It was a little hot and guys were a little cranky early, but then some of the seniors picked some kids up and the day ended on a good note. This last week I’ve really seen some of our seniors become leaders. A couple on the defensive line, a few senior linebackers and good young leaders in the secondary.”

Expectations have begun to grow for WKU. USA Today ranked every FBS team going into 2015, the Hilltoppers stand currently at 37, second in the state of Kentucky behind Louisville at 26 and ahead of UK at 77. Heading into their second season in the Conference USA, the potential is there for the Red and White.

“We’re still a young program, but this could be a very special place, it is a special place,” Coach Holt said. “You hear about sleeping giants, this could be one of those, like Boise State 20 years ago. I’m not sure that here is going to happen that quickly but that’s the potential it has.”