Jamal Forrest rewriting ending to his time at WKU

Senior defensive back Jamal Forrest stretches in Smith Stadium at the end of practice on Wednesday.

Lucas Aulbach

Senior defensive back Jamal Forrest has had an up-and-down three years on the Hill.

He was WKU’s starting cornerback for most of his freshman year, recording 32 tackles in 2009 and picking off a pass against Tennessee in his first college game.

While his first year seemed promising, he fell into a slump after his first season and lost his starting job. His playing time and role on the team were severely diminished over the course of the past two years.

It looks like that’s all about to change in his senior season.

Head Coach Willie Taggart has praised his effort this spring and said Forrest is “the Jamal of the old.”

“He’s back to feeling like he can play and being the man, and he’s making plays every single day, and that’s what’s good to see,” Taggart said on Wednesday.

Forrest, a Miami native, said “development problems” have kept him off the field for the most part during the last two seasons.

He said being one season away from the end of his college football career has motivated him to step up during practice.

“It’s my senior year, so I’m trying to leave it on the field,” he said. “I don’t want any regrets, and I don’t want to look back and say, ‘I didn’t leave it all on the field.’”

Forrest was an afterthought last season on a secondary that was rated as one of the best in the Sun Belt. He saw action in just three games in WKU’s first winning season since 2007.

Taggart said a discouraged Forrest came to him at one point for advice on getting back into the team’s defensive rotation.

“He came up and said, ‘Coach, what do I have to do to get my job back?’ ‘Same thing that guy did to take your job,’” he said.

That conversation helped turn Forrest’s career at WKU around. He’s been a playmaker for the Toppers during their first 10 spring practices.

The starting job at cornerback is competitive this season. There are currently 12 defensive backs on WKU’s roster, and a few more junior college recruits are expected to join the team by fall.

Forrest said competition at practice has motivated not just him, but everyone on the squad.

“There’s competition every day,” he said. “It’s constantly competitive — every day, every play. There’s just competition everywhere. It’s a competition drinking water.”

Taggart said right now, the starting job is Forrest’s to lose.

“He came out with the mindset, ‘I’m going to have the best spring I can have, and I’m going to take somebody’s job,’ and right now he’s done that,”  Taggart said. “We’re feeling good about what he’s doing.”

Forrest said the energy at spring practice has been helped by how WKU ended its 2011 season, winning seven of its last eight but being denied a bowl berth. Forrest said this is the most motivated he’s ever seen the Toppers at spring practice.

“We’ve got more energy,” he said. “You can feel the energy in practice. It’s just looking way better.”

Taggart said Forrest is a great example of how anyone can become a playmaker for WKU, no matter where they sit on the depth chart.

“Every single day he’s making plays,” Taggart said. “Every single day he’s coming out ready to practice, and when guys do that, they make things happen.”