WKU seniors have unfinished business to complete

Redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) celebrates with sophomore wide receiver Taywan Taylor (2) after rushing for a 15-yard touchdown during the first half of the WKU-Army game on Nov. 15. The Hiltoppers led the Black Knights 24-10 at the half. Brandon Carter/HERALD

Elliott Pratt

When defensive back Cam Thomas steps onto Feix Field for the final time Saturday for WKU’s contest against Texas-San Antonio, he’s not sure how he’ll feel.

“I’m going to do like I do every game, play with excitement, talk, I’m going to dance, have fun,” Thomas said. “But at the same time at the end of it, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if I’ll be able to leave the field or not.” 

Eventually that day, Thomas and 17 other seniors will have to leave that field for the last time wearing a Hilltopper jersey.

 For eight of them, the first time they stepped on the field was actually the start of a new era. 

Man, the times have changed.

Guys like Thomas and quarterback Brandon Doughty, offensive lineman Cam Clemmons and wide receiver Willie McNeal, just to name a few who were redshirted their freshman year, saw the program at its lowest. They were recruited to help rebuild a program that went 0-12 in David Elson’s last season as coach.

 Then Willie “Who-Got-It-Better-Than-Us” Taggart brought in the current group of redshirt seniors who watched WKU struggle through a 2-10 first season on the Hill during the program’s second season in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

 Since then, the team has gone 7-5 in 2011, 7-5 in 2012 and 8-4 last season, with one bowl appearance coming in 2012.

 Talk about a group that turned something around.

 “They’ve definitely helped build this program,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “To send them out with a victory would mean a whole lot. I think that they’ve invested a lot. It’s important for them to win. It’s important for them to finish on a high note.”

 Take this for how much things have changed. When Brohm served as Florida Atlantic’s quarterbacks coach in 2010, he recruited Doughty and actually got a verbal commit from the quarterback in January of 2010.

 In his senior year at North Broward Prep, Doughty had actually cancelled a recruiting trip to WKU because he “wasn’t too fond of the Hilltoppers’ offensive style,” according to an article by FAUOwlAccess.com in 2010.

 Then, abracadabra, look what we have here in 2014. 

Brohm is a first-year head coach calling the plays for Doughty, who will go down statistically as one of the best quarterbacks in WKU history.

 It truly is remarkable to sit back and look at what they’ve been able to accomplish. The best part is business isn’t over after Saturday.

 The past three years, WKU has closed its season finale at Smith Stadium. The last time they played their final game on the road was in 2010, when these redshirt seniors were freshmen.

 “It’s going to be fun,” McNeal said. “At first, I thought it was going to be a bittersweet moment with the last home game, but I can’t wait for it. My family is going to be here. It’s going to be their first game on the Hill.”

 I’m sure what can make McNeal’s family —  along with 17 other seniors’ families — happy is, of course, a win that makes WKU bowl eligible for the fourth-straight year.

 This is the group that has the opportunity to bounce back from another season of missing a bowl invitation. There aren’t many schools that can say they have a group that has been so close to the prize in the way the Hilltoppers have, only to have it snatched from their grasp.

 But these seniors haven’t wavered. They’ve stuck with it, and built something out of nothing at WKU.

 The opportunity is well within their reach, and it depends on them to determine if the experience can be complete with a mission accomplished.