WKU ‘ready to work’ at blue-collar football media day

Head coach Willie Taggart talks at WKU’s media day on Thursday, sporting a blue-collared shirt that’s become a mindset for the Toppers during fall camp.

Brad Stephens

A white WKU helmet sat in front of players and coaches as they spoke at Media Day Thursday.

But it appeared the Toppers didn’t want any of the white rubbing off on their collars.

Running back Bobby Rainey, defensive end Jared Clendenin, offensive coordinator Zach Azzani, defensive coordinator Lance Guidry and head coach Willie Taggart all spoke to the media gathered in Diddle Arena Thursday while wearing blue work shirts, with their first names stitched over their left breast.

Clendenin said the blue  collar shirts symbolized the team is “going to work this year.”

“Nothing pretty — we need to get grimy this year,” said Clendenin, a senior who started all 12 games in 2010. “We’ve been working as a team since I’ve been here. I guess the blue collar means we’ve got to emphasize the work.”

Guidry, who is starting his first year as WKU defensive coordinator, said the blue collar attitude of the team reflected his Welsh, La., upbringing.

“A lot of the people in my town wear these blue collar shirts,” Guidry said. “Thank God I went to college and I don’t have to wear these all the time.”

The team hopes to parlay the working-class spirit into improving upon a 2-10 mark in 2010.

The Toppers have yet to notch a winning season in their time as a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision and have not won a home game since 2008.

Nevertheless, Taggart said the goal for this team is nothing short of a Sun Belt championship.

The second-year head man told of a speech given to the team by Pat Reynolds, a linebacker on WKU’s 2002 I-AA National Championship team.

Reynolds took off his championship ring and said he would come back to get it when the Toppers won the Sun Belt Conference football championship. He told the current players that other members of the 2002 team would do the same.

“I thought it was good for our guys to see the pride and the passion he had for Western Kentucky University,” Taggart said. “The more and more they see that and the better they understand it, I think they’ll play a little harder for our university.”

While WKU improved upon its 0-12 2009 record by two games a year ago, many Topper fans felt the win total should’ve been higher.

Last season WKU found itself in contention in nearly every conference game, but came out with just a 2-6 Sun Belt record as a result of several lackluster fourth quarter performances.

Rainey said the offseason weight program has fixed that problem.

The senior running back said gaining muscle and getting bigger was a primary goal for the team over the past seven months, as compared to the past when he said there was more of an emphasis on conditioning.

“This year we’re looking to have bigger guys but have the same conditioning,” he said. “In the fourth quarter, we lost a lot of games because of that, so we have to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

The Toppers don’t start Sun Belt play until October, but players and coaches showed their excitement for a game that may be just as important to WKU fans – a Sept. 1 opener against in-state rival Kentucky at L.P. Field in Nashville, Tenn.

The game kicks off at 8:15 p.m. CST and can be seen on ESPNU.

Clendenin said there’s no doubt he is ready to take the field in a matchup that will pit “blue collar” against “Big Blue.”

“If you can’t get fired up for this one, then you’re not supposed to be playing,” Clendenin said. “We’re going to be fired up.”