Wide receivers hopeful for break out year

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)

Kyle Williams

When former coach Bobby Petrino introduced an offense last season that centered around the passing game, much was to be expected out of the wide receiving core.

With the team now under the direction of last season’s offensive coordinator, Jeff Brohm, the concept remains the same, and the wide receivers are eager for another successful year.

The Toppers return all three starters from the receiving core that helped set a program record in passing yards per game last season (261.7). The Toppers also added two junior college transfers with Jared Dangerfield and Antwane Grant and two high school signees that include Kentucky’s Mr. Football award winner of 2013, Nacarius Fant from Bowling Green High School.

The experienced returning group is led by redshirt senior Willie McNeal, who recorded a team-high 46 receptions, 599 receiving yards and five touchdowns last season.

McNeal, who was named a 2013 All-Sun Belt Conference Honorable Mention selection last season, said the team’s depth has increased the intensity during each practice.

“We’re deep. Actually, really deep,” McNeal said. “We’re going to be even deeper with the freshmen coming in, so it’s nice to have it like that for the first time. There’s basically pressure on you to compete. You can’t have any days off.”

The Toppers also welcome back sophomore receivers Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris, who started in a combined 12 games last year in spite of their youth.

The duo collectively tallied 57 receptions for 701 yards in their freshman seasons. Norris also hauled in four touchdown receptions.

According to wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard, the two sophomore receivers are expecting even better results out of their second year.

“To be a true freshman and actually contribute your freshman year is huge,” Shephard, said. “But now, you come into this next season, you start to have even higher expectations and I think that they have that of themselves.”

Shephard said junior college transfers Jared Dangerfield and Antwane Grant have fit nicely into the receiving core and have impressed thus far during spring ball.

The first-year wide receivers coach said their size will improve WKU’s ability to block down field and that their age is a positive influence on the team.

“Those guys are coming along very quickly,” Shephard said. “They seem to be pretty quick learners, so it’s been helpful. I think their age, being older guys, has helped the room to mature a little more throughout this whole spring ball.”

Speed and quickness have never been an issue for WKU receivers, but according to Shephard, Topper fans will notice their physicality more than any other trait this year.

Shephard emphasizes blocking just as much as any other quality, and if you can’t do it, you sit, according to Norris.

“That’s just as important as running a route for him,” Norris said. “He’s big on blocking. If you can’t block, you can’t get in. Just like if you can’t run a route you can’t be in.”

The Toppers will hold six more spring practices, all of which are open to the public, before their annual Red and White scrimmage on April 19 at 1:00 p.m. in Smith Stadium.