Aulbach: Energy is key for the Toppers in spring football

Junior Mitchell Henry catches a pass for a first down. WKU plays against Arkansas State on Nov. 30, 2013 at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

Lucas Aulbach

They might be just two weeks into their spring training period, but the Toppers made it sound like game day in November at Tuesday’s practice.

Wide receivers and cornerbacks were in each others’ faces. The linebackers were fired up on every hit. The WKU coaches might have even been the most vocal guys on the field, cheering on their players or correcting their mistakes all afternoon.

It was loud at Smith Stadium for the ninth practice of the spring. And senior tight end Mitchell Henry said that’s the way it should be.

“At spring ball, it’s all competition,” Henry said Tuesday. “It’s not like in the fall, where you’re preparing for a team. Right now we’re just going against each other every day and at the spring game we’re going to go against each other. It’s a lot of competition stuff, and everybody’s getting a lot of reps.”

The WKU coaches were key to a lot of the energy at Tuesday’s practice, leading up to the annual spring scrimmage on April 19. Voices from the likes of defensive coordinator Nick Holt and wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard could be heard above others at the end of every play.

Energy like that starts at the top, from people like Head Coach Jeff Brohm and Holt, who also serves as associate head coach.

This may be the first spring with Brohm at the top, but most of his system and terminology is the same as former coach Bobby Petrino. Brohm was Petrino’s associate head coach and right-hand man during his single season at WKU, and junior tight end Tyler Higbee said that familiar feeling helps at Brohm’s practices.

“Last year, Petrino came in and we had to learn his whole new offense,” Higbee said. “Brohm kind of runs the same schemes and everything with a lot of the same terminology. That helps out with getting the plays down. Now it’s kind of less thinking and more reacting and just playing the game.”

Continuation from a year ago doesn’t mean complacency, though. Tight ends coach Ryan Wallace, a former player under coach Willie Taggart, said with over four months until the regular season opener, the WKU coaches are still trying new things.

“With coach Brohm taking over and (new offensive coordinator Tyson Helton) coming in, there’s a lot of new ideas that have taken place,” Wallace said. “We’ve kind of tweaked little things here and there that we’ve done, but (players) have done a good job of grasping it.”

When this team takes the field for its first regular season game in August, a lot will have changed — new starters will be in place and a Conference USA logo will have replaced the Sun Belt tag on the Smith Stadium turf.

But if the Toppers can keep this kind of energy at practice until then, they should be a team ready to compete at that next level.