Spring football kicks off with high expectations

WKU’s redshirt senior wide receiver Willie McNeal (10) catches a pass during spring practice Tuesday, March 1, at Smith Stadium in Bowling Green. (Mike Clark/HERALD)

Billy Rutledge

The WKU football team had a successful inaugural campaign in the Conference USA last year. The Hilltoppers broke or tied 50 records in 2014 and achieved its first FBS bowl victory in program history, under first year Head Coach Jeff Brohm.

In his second year at the helm, Brohm will start spring practice this week with one goal in mind: improvement.

“The spring is about developing our players. We want to make sure that we get as many reps with those guys as we can in a limited amount of time. We have what we feel like is a good plan to get a lot of reps for our guys, to get a lot of action,” Brohm said. “To be able to study tape and film in between the practice sessions, since it is spread out a little bit more, and get better and that’s the focus: improving, getting better, getting stronger and becoming a better football team this spring.” 

In its first season after the Bobby Petrino era, WKU’s offense became the first FBS team ever with a 4,500 yard passer and 1,500 yard rusher as senior quarterback Brandon Doughty threw for 4,830 and senior running back Leon Allen rushed for 1,542. The duo led WKU to an 8-5, 4-4 C-USA record in 2014. That includes wins in its final four games of the regular season and a dramatic victory in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl over Central Michigan 49-48.

This season, WKU returns 16 starters (seven on offense, nine on defense) and will look to become bowl eligible for the fifth straight season. 

Spring football kicks off this week with a wealth of newcomers on the Hill. WKU signed 21 recruits to the squad on signing day this year, including nine players from the state of Kentucky. On the list, four players each signed from the states of Florida and Georgia. Two come from Tennessee and one each from Mississippi and Alabama.

“I feel good. I think our offense didn’t miss a step. We were clicking all practice,” redshirt senior wide receiver Jared Dangerfield said. “Our defense was making plays today. They have a different energy this year and are looking better.”

The Hilltoppers recruiting class was ranked 106 out of 129 ranked Division I programs, and eighth out of the 12 Conference USA teams, according to Rivals.com. 

One aspect of the program WKU will look to improve during the spring is the defense. 

Last season, WKU gave up 39.9 points per game, which was ranked 124th in Division I football. Redshirt senior linebacker Nick Holt, who started every game in 2014, will look to revamp a side of the ball that struggled the season before.

“There are a lot of things we have to do on defense this year, and it starts with tackling better,” Holt said. “We’re doing tackling drills at the beginning of practice for ten minutes every practice and a lot more guys are getting reps and experience. It helps going against one of the best offenses in the country day in and day out.

“The vibe here is we want to be a great football team. We are already like a family, but now we want to take that next step and win a conference championship.”

WKU’s practice Tuesday was the first of 15 this spring which are all open to the public. WKU will conclude spring football with the annual Red and White game on April 18th.