Three former Toppers get shot at NFL roster

Elliott Pratt

It took 10 years for it to happen, but a WKU player’s name was called during the 2013 NFL Draft over the weekend.

Defensive end Quanterus Smith was selected by the Denver Broncos in the fifth round with pick No. 146.

Smith becomes the first Topper since Jeremi Johnson in 2003 to be drafted. Johnson was a fourth-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Although Smith was the only one of the 254 players selected in the draft, former Topper tight end Jack Doyle and offensive linemen Adam Smith also landed shots to make an NFL roster.

Doyle agreed to sign as an unrestricted free agent with the Tennessee Titans just minutes after the draft concluded Saturday night. Adam Smith received his call Sunday morning from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Adam Smith could begin his career by playing in the same stadium on Sundays that a former WKU coach will call the shots on Saturdays.

Former WKU coach Willie Taggart’s South Florida Bulls play home games at Raymond James Stadium, the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Coach Taggart said all three men deserve a shot at their dreams, and that their attitude and drive while at WKU helped them to the big league.

“All of those guys worked their tails off,” Taggart said. “They really worked their craft if you just watched the way those guys worked during the off season. We knew from a football standpoint that those guys had the ability to get it done, and they did.

“I’m proud to see them accomplish their goals and aspirations.”

Doyle won’t move far from WKU — the Titans’ facilities are located in Nashville, just an hour south of Bowling Green.

Doyle said he knew there was a possibility he could go late in the draft, and said his phone started ringing midway through the final round with teams looking to sign him as a free agent.

The Indianapolis-raised tight end will join a team that rivals his hometown’s Indianapolis Colts, but Doyle said he is excited to represent both his collegiate fan base and his employer.

“There are a lot of WKU fans who are also Titans fans,” Doyle said. “I’m just so proud to be able to represent WKU and thank the Titans for giving me a chance.”

Quanterus Smith, Adam Smith and Doyle join former All-American running back Bobby Rainey of the Baltimore Ravens are the only active Hilltoppers in the NFL.

Smith was named the 2012 Sun Belt Conference defensive player of the year after recording 12.5 sacks in 10 games, leading the nation in sacks per game with 1.25.

The Loganville, Ga. native missed the last two games of the season to an anterior cruciate ligament tear against Louisiana-Lafayette in November.

Smith said he wouldn’t even watch the draft, and is glad it is all over now.

“It was a big relief,” Smith said. “I was real stressed out, but it was a big relief when they called me.”

Former Broncos quarterback and current Denver executive vice president of football operations John Elway said in a news conference that Smith’s ability to get to the quarterback is why they took the defensive end in the fifth round.

“He’s got a unique ability to rush the passer,” Elway said. “He went to Western Kentucky, but one of his best games was against two really good tackles at Alabama. He’s got the unique ability to duck and a great feel to rush the passer.”

While Quanterus had his name called on Saturday, Adam Smith waited longer than any former Topper to have his opportunity ring through the phone.

“I knew the Chiefs and the Bucs wanted me to come to camp with them as a try-out deal and then sign,” Smith said. “My agent called me Sunday morning and said the Bucs wanted to put me on contract and sign me.

“It was kind of a stressful night and a bit of a roller coaster ride, but it’s all worth it in the end.”

A roller coaster ride perfectly defines the college career these signees experienced. From an 0-12 season their freshman year to the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl in their senior year, Quanterus, Adam, and Jack have helped build WKU football to prominence once again.

Coach Taggart was a figure in doing something to bring the program back up, and says the newest Hilltopper additions to the NFL were part of that foundation.

“When I took over, our intention from the beginning was to recruit really good football players and to get that train going of guys going to the NFL year in and year out,” Taggart said. “It started with Bobby (Rainey) setting the tone and (Derrius) Brooks going to the CFL. I look forward to seeing more of those guys doing it.”