Media Day gives glimpse of WKU football future

Willie Taggart/

Lucas Aulbach

Coach Willie Taggart took the Diddle Arena podium at WKU’s Football Media Day press conference on Wednesday with his face hidden behind a pair of aviator sunglasses.

It was fitting to the new identity the coach has built around this team as he heads into his third year at the helm.

The excitement surrounding WKU football is higher than it’s been in several years, thanks to the unexpected success the team enjoyed last season and the coach said he expects even bigger things this year

“Our kids put us ahead of schedule in that process for being what we can be, and I think it’s only going to get better,” Taggart said. “I think offensively we’re going to be exciting to watch and I think defensively we’re going to be exciting to watch.”

Taggart wasn’t alone in his enthusiasm. Everyone who took the podium expressed excitement for the coming year, and senior defensive lineman Jamarcus Allen said that feeling of hope hasn’t been limited to just the team.

“This is the most I’ve seen, people in the community more excited for football, since I’ve been here,” he said. “I’m happy that everybody’s excited, I know we’re happy, this is mine and a couple other players’ senior year and everything is just ‘football, football, football, football,’ right now.”

WKU comes into this season sharing the same goals as last season — win the Sun Belt Conference and go to a bowl game. The Toppers were one of the two bowl-eligible teams in the country to not get invited to a bowl game last season, a distinction junior offensive lineman Sean Conway said the Toppers are trying to forget.

“The bowl was disappointing but that’s in the past,” Conway said. “We’re in the present now, this is 2012.

“We want another bowl, we want to win the Sun Belt. It’s always in the back of our minds as a team, but we can’t reminisce on the past. We’ve got to move forward.”

Junior punter Hendrix Brakefield said the team was able to take a lesson and learn something from last season’s disappointing end.

“When that happened last year it was disappointing, mainly because we were coming off that big-time win streak that we had and we were finally playing the way that we knew we could from the start,” he said. “The thing is now, we all realize you can’t start off slow.

“You can’t start of any kind of a season slow, you’ve got to go out and play every game like your bowl chances depend on it.”

Many of the Toppers seem to have a good start factored into their expectations for the season. Several players said they aren’t coming into this season expecting to lose a game.

“12-0. Why not?” Conway said when asked how he expects the team to fare this year.

Coaches across the conference don’t share Conway’s confidence in the Toppers though, with WKU coming in fourth on the preseason Sun Belt coaches poll.

Taggart said the poll isn’t a perfect indicator of how a team will do in the season, pointing to last year as an example.

“Those guys aren’t always right,” he said. “Last year they had us seventh, so they’re not always right, and like I told our football team, let’s not let anybody else label us. Let’s go out and label ourselves.”

The Toppers don’t start the regular season until Sept. 1, when they open at home against Austin Peay. They will proceed to take on Alabama, Kentucky and Southern Mississippi before beginning conference play in late September.

While it would be easy to look past the home opener and think more about the loaded back end of their non-conference schedule, defensive line coach Eric Mathies said the Toppers are focused on preparing for Austin Peay.

“We haven’t set sail yet,” Mathies said. “Sept. 1, we set sail. There’s going to be some rocky waters, there’s going to be some smooth waters. We know that the Kentucky island is out there when we set sail. But we have to set sail first, and Austin Peay is our first destination”

Taggart, who seemed as ready as the rest of the team to set sail, called the excitement around the program “a beautiful thing.”

“When I came back (to WKU in 2010), there wasn’t a lot of excitement around here, and now to see the excitement and everyone ready for football season, that’s how it should be,” he said. “WKU athletics has always been big-time around here. We got away from it for whatever reason it was, and now it’s coming back.”