Football Notes: WKU running back ‘committee’ loses Evans

Freshman running back John Evans sidesteps a Troy defensive back during a kick return in the third quarter of WKU’s 41-18 win Saturday.

Lucas Aulbach

Heading into the offseason, coach Willie Taggart touted his returning running backs as a group capable of duplicating Bobby Rainey’s record-setting numbers.

But the WKU “running back by committee” lost a key member this offseason in John Evans.

The running back, who saw time in spring practice and the Red-White scrimmage last April, would have been a sophomore this season but is no longer on the roster due to academic issues, Taggart confirmed Monday.

Evans was expected to play a significant role in the Topper offense this season.

He was a preseason all-conference special teams choice after leading WKU in punt and kickoff return yards last season and was expected to compete for playing time at running back with juniors Antonio Andrews and Keshawn Simpson.

Taggart, however, wasn’t ready to hand out starting jobs at the first practice, especially when WKU currently has nine running backs on its roster.

“Nobody has a job right now,” Taggart said. “All those guys are working and practicing for a job, and that’s the beauty of that.

“None of them can take a play off now. None of them can go over and throw up, they don’t have time to throw up on the sideline.”

August heat unbeatable on first day

The dog days of summer are infamous for giving players a hard time in preseason warm-ups, and that was no different for WKU on Monday.

The 90-degree heat played a big role in the team’s first practice and coupled with hours of intense training and workouts, it was enough to send one player to the hospital.

Sophomore offensive lineman William Berner collapsed around noon on Monday, laying on the field for several minutes before being taken to a local hospital to be treated for heat exhaustion.

A WKU spokesman said the hospital visit was precautionary.

The Toppers will have to get used to the summer heat. They don’t have a day off of practice until Aug. 19 and are scheduled to practice through the hottest part of the day for the better part of the next two weeks.

Defense has high expectations

Senior defensive tackle Jamarcus Allen wasn’t modest when he outlined WKU’s expectations on defense this season.

“Top 10 run defense, be the No. 1 defense in the Sun Belt, hold under 300 total yards anybody we play, and just be great,” he said after practice.

Allen attributed his high expectations for the defense to the schemes of defensive coordinator Lance Guidry, who is entering his second season as a coach at WKU.

“We’ve finally got a defensive coordinator that has been in our program for two years straight so we know the defense — it’s second nature to us right now, so everybody’s just flying around,” he said.

Allen was visibly excited for most of the time he spent on the field on Monday, yelling at other players and making plays on the ball.

His energy came from the fact that this will be his last season playing for the Toppers, Allen said.

“This is my last year,” he said. “From here on out this is my last thing doing anything for the WKU football program so I’m happy to be out here.”

Taggart hopes to build a ‘blue-collar’ team

One person who stood out on the field on Monday was Taggart, and he wasn’t even wearing a jersey.

Instead, he had on a light blue collared shirt with a “Willie” name tag stitched on.

“Blue-collar is what we started last year,” he said about the shirt. “We’re working. We put these shirts on, we’re going to work. We don’t ever stop being blue-collar.”

The shirt symbolizes the way the Toppers plan on working in order to build the program, Taggart said.

“This is what WKU is,” he said. “This is not just a one-year deal. This is what we are.

“We’re blue-collar in the way that we approach things and guys can wear this whenever. They can wear it five, 10 years from now and they’re Hilltoppers. That’s what we do.”