Toppers begin full-contact practices Friday

Junior linebacker Xavius Boyd watches a play from the sideline with his teammates during practice at Smith Stadium on Wednesday.

Lucas Aulbach

Practicing without pads, the Toppers spent their first two spring practices this week focusing on the mental part of the game.

But things will get physical when WKU hits the field in full pads for the first time on Friday, players and coaches said.

“I can’t wait,” senior defensive lineman Jamarcus Allen said on Wednesday. “I’ve got a lot of built-up tension, so I’m going to release it all on Friday.”

Spring practice changes when the Toppers suit up in pads. While players acknowledged that the first two practices this week were more geared toward getting back into the football groove, full-contact practices with pads are more inclined to mirror a regular season practice.

Allen called the first few spring scrimmages “mental days.”

“We learn about the plays and our right steps, right keys,” he said. “It’s all learning days until we get the pads on and put it all together.”

Senior offensive lineman Seth White said practicing without shoulder and leg pads is important for players to work on their technique on the field and get back into the football mentality.

Like Allen, White said he’s chomping at the bit to be able to get physical.

“It’s going to be great,” he said. “I mean, helmets are great and all — they help you shake off the rust a little bit — but when you put the full pads on, that’s when you know it’s going down.”

Head Coach Willie Taggart said he can learn a lot more about the team when they suit up in game day gear.

“It’s a little different,” he said. “Everybody’s five-star out here today with no pads on. Now come Friday — we’re going to see the real guy.”

While Taggart is looking forward to seeing his team work with their pads on, he acknowledged that there’s no excuse for players to slack off during the first couple of practices. He said the coaching staff has high expectations for every player, regardless of what they’re wearing.

“Every position on this football team should be on their A-game now and working,” he said during Wednesday’s padless practice. “Again, we said it before: We’re not going to make excuses for anybody. No kickers, no holders, receivers, running backs, anybody.”

He couldn’t hide his optimism for the upcoming season, though. Taggart said his team has practiced hard and enjoyed themselves during the first few spring practices of the season.

“This team is so different,” he said. “I’m loving this football team right now, and I’d take it over any team right now, the way guys are working and getting after it.”

The Toppers are benefitting this year from a different atmosphere coming into the season, thanks to their hot finish to last season, Allen said.

That atmosphere is helping WKU build chemistry, he said.

“This is probably the best group of guys I could ask to be around,” Allen said. “So far, spring has been good. Winter conditioning no one missed practice at all. It’s just high-energy, high-level — everybody’s willing to grind and trying to pick up where we left off last year.”

The Toppers practiced through the morning on Monday and Wednesday this week, hitting the field before 7 a.m. and finishing up around 9:30 a.m. They’ll be out practicing in pads at Smith Stadium in the middle of the afternoon on Friday and Saturday.

Taggart said his team will be ready to get physical this afternoon.

“They’ll be juiced up,” he said. “Those guys out here now, if they think they’re Popeye today, they better eat their spinach on Friday. We’re going to see that same juice and that same energy once we put the pads on.”