Catching Up: Toppers deal with turnover at wide receiver

Sophomore wide receiver Courtney Dalcourt (15) stretches with his teammates after practice on Friday. Dalcourt missed the past two seasons with knee injuries and switched from quarterback to wide receiver last year under Head Coach Willie Taggart.

Emily Patton

This season Courtney Dalcourt is making the transition from quarterback to receiver.

Although Dalcourt said his comfort with the position is “getting there,” the pressure rests on his shoulders to help fill the Toppers’ depleted wide receiver lineup.

The sophomore has been around the football program for two years but hasn’t yet gotten his chance to play, facing two knee injuries.

“It is a great opportunity,” Dalcourt said. “Unfortunately, we have people who aren’t on the field with us, but would love to be with us, but guys have to step up.

“As far as quarterback, you have the ball in your hands at all times. Now I have to work for the ball. I have to beat that defender. It is just a different mindset. My mindset is, ‘Get on the field any way possible.’”

Experience at receiver is low for WKU, with just one player — sophomore Jamarielle Brown — who caught a pass last season. Brown had one reception for five yards.

In 2010, the Toppers had 18 receivers on their depth chart. This year, they find themselves with just 11 on the roster.

Three receivers graduated, three did not return to the team, and sophomore Dexter Haynes is suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.

But even that list of 11 has already started dwindling with injuries to sophomore Willie McNeal and junior Marcus Vasquez.

McNeal suffered a season-ending knee injury last Wednesday in what Head Coach Willie Taggart called a “freak accident” during a drill.

McNeal led the Toppers in receiving last season with 360 yards and was also their primary kick returner. He ended the season with 1,408 all-purpose yards.

Although Vasquez will miss the entire spring after breaking his collar bone late last season, he should return in the fall.

But even with little experience and depth at receiver, Taggart said he isn’t worried.

“This will get some of these young guys a great opportunity to step up and make plays,” Taggart said. “If somebody goes down, somebody’s got to step up. If we do that, we’re going to have a good football team.”

To adjust to the learning progress, Taggart is requesting more leadership from his two quarterbacks, sophomore Kawaun Jakes and redshirt freshman Brandon Doughty.

“I’m just trying to stay positive,” Doughty said. “When things are down, it’s about just trying to pick everyone up, being a leader in the huddle and in the classroom as well.”

During Saturday’s scrimmage, Taggart witnessed a play that he said was a “big play for a lot of reasons.”

Doughty threw a long pass to Dalcourt, but after making the catch, Dalcourt limped off the field.

“When that happened to Courtney, and he came limping, I heard one of his teammates say, ‘Come on, come on, man, you got to suck it up,’” Taggart said.  “That was big for our football team. One, because we have a teammate holding guys accountable to be out there, and then Courtney, like some others, are playing through some pain.

“That’s a big sign of where we’re going with our football team.”

With Dalcourt’s past knee injuries, Taggart said it was a scary moment for everyone.

But after one play, Dalcourt returned to the field and caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Doughty.

“When we have people fall down or are injured, we have people right there to take their place,” Dalcourt said. “It is like a never-ending chain.”