Running backs look to improve under first-year coach Smith

Lucas Aulbach

The WKU offense was built around the run last season, compiling 2,362 rushing yards over the course of the 13-game season.

This year, the Toppers will look to build on that success with some familiar faces along with some potential breakout stars.

Topper running backs looking to make a name for themselves this season should look no further than last season’s starter, Antonio Andrews.

Andrews, a senior, spent two seasons backing up former WKU and current Baltimore Ravens’ running back Bobby Rainey before busting on to the scene last season.

He put up record-setting numbers, picking up 1,728 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns over the year while finishing second in NCAA history with 3,161 all-purpose yards.

Running backs coach Kolby Smith wasn’t around last year, but the first-year coach said he’s been impressed with the way Andrews has performed during the first few spring practices.

“He’s doing a great job of leading the group around here,” Smith said. “He’s doing all the little things that we’re asking him to do so that we can be a better team.”

Andrews isn’t the only back on the roster, though — Smith said he expects last season’s starter to split carries with other running backs on the WKU roster, including fellow senior Keshawn Simpson.

Any of WKU’s eight running backs that do well in practice could see playing time his year, Smith said.

“All backs are going to play,” he said. “One thing about coach Petrino’s offense is if you can execute the plays well, you will play.”

One running back seeing his first playing time in a WKU uniform this spring is redshirt freshman Anthony Wales.

Wales, a former standout at Central High School in Louisville, said it has been an experience working under Smith, who played running back for Louisville in college before a four-year stint in the NFL.

“Being from Louisville, I watched him as I grew up, so now seeing him coaching me, I know to listen to him,” Wales said. “He’s been in the league so he knows what and what not to do.”

Simpson is another back expected to play a role in the Topper offense this season.

He was hampered by injuries last year, finishing with 101 yards and one touchdown on the season after missing six games due to an injury suffered in the season-opener against Austin Peay.

Simpson said Smith’s success at the college and pro levels have given the WKU backs on the roster confidence in his technique.

“He’s a player’s coach,” he said about Smith. “He knows what he’s talking about and been in the same position we’ve been in, so I look up to him and listen to everything he says.”

This is Smith’s first season serving as running backs coach — he was Arkansas’ assistant strength and conditioning coach last year before accepting the job at WKU in the offseason.

He said he’s been pleased with what his running backs have brought to the table through the first four practices of the spring football schedule.

“I’m excited about the group of guys that I have,” Smith said. “They’re all working hard, challenging each other, and competing with each other to be the best.”