The 2012 Topper senior class has been through a lot, so it’s fitting that their final game collegiate game is WKU’s first bowl game as an FBS team.
Of the 20 current seniors on WKU’s roster, several arrived five years ago in 2008, when the Toppers went 2-10.
WKU didn’t have any more luck in its next few seasons, going a dismal 0-12 in 2009, its first season as a full FBS member, and 2-10 in 2010.
As now-senior Kawaun Jakes and others integrated themselves into the starting lineup with little success, some Topper fans publicly wondered if these players were the right guys for the job.
“You’re talking about a group that went 2-10, 0-12, 2-10,” athletics director Todd Stewart said. “That would have broken a strong man, but I think we’ve got a lot of guys that are stronger than strong men.”
The arrival of coach Willie Taggart in 2010 changed things. The Toppers struggled through that 2-10 season in 2010 before ripping off consecutive 7-5 seasons — a record that wasn’t good enough for a bowl game last year but got the Toppers in this season.
Taggart said he’s happier for the seniors on his team than anyone else.
“I’m really excited, especially for these seniors that have been around here,” he said. “They get a chance to leave here doing something that they set out to do and leaving our program in a better place. They’re leaving their stamp on this program.”
As the quarterback, Jakes was often blamed for the team’s struggles in those early years.
He was even benched in favor of then-freshman Brandon Doughty at one point last season. But Doughty was injured and Jakes came back to lead WKU to its first winning season as an FBS member.
The senior said the time he spent last week waiting to find out if he would ever play another game was nerve-wracking.
“I had faith but I’m not going to lie, I was nervous,” Jakes said. “I can’t sit here and lie and say I wasn’t. You pray on things like that and I had faith in Coach ’T’ and Todd. They came through.”
Stewart was the one who told the Toppers Sunday. The news broke about an hour before the bowl selections were announced on ESPN.
Taggart said the locker room was understandably excited when the team heard they would have one more game.
“You would’ve thought they were that guy that won that $500 million Powerball,” Taggart said. “They were fired up, guys were hugging each other. I’m sure it’s probably on YouTube by now or something but they’re excited.”
Senior tight end Jack Doyle has been a big part of the football team for four years and currently ranks No. 2 at WKU in career receptions.
He said he’s ready to hit the practice field again — he didn’t know what to do with himself this week with the possibility of having already played his final game for WKU.
“I was bored all last week — I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Doyle said. “Now I get to go back and practice and that’s what I’m comfortable doing so I’m just excited to get back to doing that.”