COLUMN: Young defensive backs reflect Toppers’ future

Zach Greenwell

Sometimes we get so caught up in a season that we don’t stop to look at the bottom-line results.

With sports, that usually means statistics.

Watching WKU’s young defensive backs descend upon starting roles last year, it was obvious that the youth movement was working out for the better.

I just had never stopped to look at the numbers — until now.

The Toppers’ new wave of defensive backs — led by true freshmen corners Tyree Robinson and Arius Wright and redshirt freshman safety Kiante Young — had their coming-out party last Sept. 25 at South Florida.

It was there that the trio started for the first time, and it was there they started leaving an imprint on WKU’s defense.

In their first three games of 2010 against Nebraska, Kentucky and Indiana, the Toppers surrendered 296 passing yards per game and 494 yards overall.

But over the final nine games, WKU’s defense contained its opponents to 170 yards through the air and 342 overall.

Now did the level of competition in WKU’s first three games skew that stat some? Sure.

But did the new guys patrolling the secondary also play a role? You bet.

Take the 2009 season for example. That group gave up 233 passing yards per game, which probably would have been higher had teams not been running wild on the defense instead of opting for the pass.

The 2009 team also had six interceptions the entire season. The Toppers had eight last year — all after the freshmen took the reins.

But maybe more important than the stats is the new attitude they brought.

Head Coach Willie Taggart stressed competition and “taking someone’s job” as soon as he arrived, and it seemed that applied to no group more than the secondary.

Turns out that was true, because it took just three games for a complete overhaul at the position.

Robinson and Wright, both members of Taggart’s first recruiting class, brought a fresh approach to things. They knew nothing of losing streaks, fan unrest or low attendance.

Instead, they saw an opportunity and ran with it.

This eventually helped the entire group, as older guys like Ryan Beard, Derrius Brooks and Kareem Peterson all fought for more playing time.

The freshmen have also wreaked havoc for WKU in practice, challenging the offense to step up.

It was the ripple effect Taggart hoped would happen. And two weeks into spring ball, the defensive backs have gone from one of the team’s biggest eyesores to one of its biggest strengths.

But no one, especially Taggart, is going to let the young guys get too pleased with themselves. Defensive backs Champ Lewis and Eric Robinson-Berry, rated three-star prospects by, will arrive in the fall as part of the latest recruiting class, and each will be looking for that same opportunity.

“We’re not letting up on nothing,” Wright said. “We got the attention last year, but now we’re coming to take over.”

And in the future, that’s a mindset that has to take over the whole program.