Football Notebook: The South a recruiting priority for Petrino

Bobby Petrino answers questions during a press conference after being announced as the new football coach at Smith Stadium on Dec. 10.

Brad Stephens

There will be plenty of on-the-field, X’s and O’s change from the old WKU of former coach Willie Taggart to the new WKU of first-year coach Bobby Petrino.

Something not likely to change is the region from which the Toppers will get their players — the South.

“One of the things I believe in is that we have to get the best players from the state of Kentucky and work extremely hard at that,” Petrino said Wednesday. “From there, we’re going to work our way south. We’re going to go into areas like Alabama, Georgia and Florida.”

Taggart’s coaching staff was known for hitting the state of Florida hard in the recruiting process during his three years in Bowling Green.

Taggart, a Florida native, signed current starters like Andrew Jackson, Jonathan Dowling and Kadeem Jones from the Sunshine State.

The Toppers have also had success in Georgia in recent years, grabbing players like Bobby Rainey, Jared Clendenin and Quanterus Smith from that state.

Petrino told the story of some of his own sons’ experience playing in Florida youth leagues during his time as an assistant with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars from 1999-2001.

“They had Mondays off, they practiced Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,” Petrino said. “Friday they had a team dinner and watched video and played their game Saturday morning — at nine and 10 (years old)… I just have always felt that the kids that grow up with that stay and really put in the hard work.

“That’s also where we want to get our speed from. We’d head south to do that.”

Each member of Petrino’s coaching staff will have recruiting responsibilities both within the state of Kentucky and further south.

Assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, will handle the Tampa-Lakeland-Bradenton, Fla., area — a region in which Taggart signed many of his players.

Other assistants with responsibilities in Florida include secondary coach Mike Cassity, running backs coach Kolby Smith, offensive line coach Mike Summers and wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas.

Defensive coordinator Nick Holt, special teams/cornerbacks coach Ricky Brumfield, defensive ends coach/recruiting coordinator Kevin Peoples and defensive tackles coach L.D. Scott will all recruit Georgia, Alabama or Mississippi.

WKU’s coaching staff will spend the next few weeks splitting time between recruiting and installing new offensive and defensive systems, Petrino said.

Holt defends Washington numbers

When WKU plays Kentucky on Aug. 31 at LP Field in Nashville, it’ll be the first college game Petrino has coached since the Cotton Bowl at the end of the 2011 season.

It’ll also be the first game Holt has coached since that same bowl season.

Holt was defensive coordinator for Washington from 2009-11. His tenure there ended after a 67-56 loss to No. 12 Baylor in the 2011 Alamo Bowl.

Facing a Baylor team led by Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, Holt’s defense surrendered a school-record 777 yards of total offense in the loss.

He and two defensive assistants were fired days later.

Overall the Huskies were ranked No. 106 out of 120 FBS teams in 2011, giving up 453.3 yards per game.

Holt said Wednesday that those numbers were a result of a young defense facing several good offenses. In addition to Griffin III, the Huskies faced Andrew Luck and Stanford, Matt Barkley and USC and Nick Foles and Arizona.

Griffin III, Luck and Foles are all NFL starting quarterbacks now. Barkley will likely be one of the top quarterbacks taken in the upcoming 2013 NFL Draft.

“It was kind of a perfect storm in 2011 as far as some of the numbers that were put up,” Holt said.

However he added that year produced several positives, including going to a bowl game, beating in-state rival Washington State and beating divisional foe California.

“In a lot of ways it was a really good season, we just didn’t finish strong in the bowl game, and the numbers were not where we wanted,” Holt said. “But the cool thing is that I’m here now.”

Petrino, Jackson yet to talk about Draft

The one WKU underclassman generating the most NFL Draft talk is middle linebacker Andrew Jackson.

Jackson recorded 122 tackles in 2012, leading the Toppers for the second straight year and ranking second in the Sun Belt Conference.

He also recorded 17.5 tackles for loss, including two sacks, and forced four fumbles.

Jackson, who just completed his junior season, now has the choice of entering the NFL Draft or coming back to WKU for his senior season.

Petrino said Wednesday he’d yet to talk to Jackson about his decision, but that it was a conversation he needed to have.

“A lot of times you really just educate (draft-eligible players) on the difference between coming back, spending another year, moving up,” Petrino said. “Sometimes the best investment you can make is to return to college for another year.”

Underclassmen like Jackson have until Jan. 15 to declare for the draft.