Aulbach: Three drafted Toppers have earned NFL shot

Lucas Aulbach

They weren’t names that jumped off the board on many mock drafts, but the three former WKU football players that signed with NFL teams over the weekend spent enough time battling adversity in their time on The Hill that they seem like seasoned veterans.

Former defensive end and sack artist Quanterus Smith became the first WKU player to get picked up in the NFL Draft since 2003 when he was taken by the Denver Broncos in the fifth round. Offensive guard Adam Smith and tight end Jack Doyle also each signed with teams as free agents after the draft — Smith was picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while Doyle signed with the Tennessee Titans, which should excite some people around here.

These guys will be rookies when they check in at camp this summer, but they’re not coming without experience.

Former WKU coach Willie Taggart used to call the 2012-13 graduating class special because of all that those seniors had been through — 2009, the freshman season for Topper trio, was WKU’s first year as an FBS team.

The Toppers went 0-12 that season. Fast forward three years to 2012 and those same freshmen, now seniors, were leading WKU to its first FBS bowl game and helping earn an invitation to Conference USA.

Doyle and the Smiths were at the front of the program’s facelift.

Quanterus Smith (or “Q,” as his teammates called him) grew into a monster on the WKU defensive line, recording 12.5 sacks in just 10 games last season before tearing his ACL in November.

“Mr. Reliable” Jack Doyle led the Toppers with his hands and his words — he pulled in 162 receptions over the course of his career and was often cited as one of the team’s verbal leaders.

And four-year starter Adam Smith, who stood out at WKU’s pro day in March, held down the trenches, blocking for WKU record-holders such as quarterback Kawaun Jakes and running backs Antonio Andrews and Bobby Rainey.

They did more than just put up statistics, though. Doyle and the Smiths are the product of a senior class that essentially built the WKU football program that exists today.

When the Toppers took the field in 2009, WKU was frequently listed as one of the worst FBS football programs in the NCAA. Four years later, WKU has the profile to attract a big-name coach like Bobby Petrino and is set to move to C-USA, one of the top mid-level FBS football conferences, in a year.

The success this year’s senior class had over the past two years paved the way for the program to take the next step, and a lot of the credit for that success should go to the three Toppers who will be playing at the next level.

Doyle and the Smiths spent four years at WKU helping build a football program from the ground up. The experience they picked up in that time could be more valuable to them than all the hours they spent in the weight room.