Notes: McNeal done for year; Taggart talks leadership from QBs

Sophomore receiver Willie McNeal holds his knee while a teammate holds his hand and two other staff stand by after McNeal took a hit during Wednesday’s practice. Head Coach Willie Taggart told reporters after practice that McNeal was done for the season.

Cole Claybourn

WKU suffered its first major blow of the spring on Wednesday.

Head Coach Willie Taggart said after Wednesday’s practice that sophomore wide receiver Willie McNeal will be out for the rest of the spring and next season after suffering a knee injury in what Taggart called a “freak accident” during a drill.

“He’s done,” Taggart said. “He did everything to his knee. I don’t exactly what it was, but it was a lot of those L’s.”

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.

WKU was already thin at wide receiver this spring after sophomore Marcus Vasquez broke his collarbone late last season, forcing him to miss spring practice.

Although there are still several receivers on roster, the Toppers are left with just freshman Jamarielle Brown as the only one who caught a pass last season. Brown had one reception for five yards last year.

“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.

“For some of these young guys, the learning process has got to come a lot faster now.”

Taggart wants QBs to be leaders 

Taggart said the thing he’s looking for more than anything this spring is leadership from the quarterback position.

Junior Kawaun Jakes and redshirt freshman Brandon Doughty are the only two quarterbacks competing for the spot this spring.

Quarterback recruits James Mauro and Dyron Speight will join the team in the fall.

Taggart said leadership was something that was missing at that position last season.

“They have to become leaders of this football team,” he said. “I don’t think they were ever asked of that before. When things get down, he can’t get down. He’s got to be the guy that stays up.”

Taggart said leadership was something that had to be taught and eventually acquired by his players, but said he’s starting to see some of it take shape.

“It’s not coming as fast as I want it to,” Taggart said. “Not from the quarterback position as fast as I want it to. But I see it throughout this football team. Guys are just having fun playing football again. It wasn’t like that before.”

Jakes said he understands what it takes to be a leader, but he admitted that it can be a heavy weight to bear at times.

“When the quarterback is having a bad time, we get down on ourselves because we know we can make a throw or a read,” he said. “But the coach expects the quarterback to be the leader. We just have to stay positive and keep the team honest.”

Doughty said he’s taking a more vocal approach to being a leader.

“I’m just trying to stay positive,” he 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.”

But Taggart said he isn’t neglecting the physical aspect of being a quarterback.

He said whoever ends up as the team’s quarterback needs to be an offensive weapon.

“They just need to know the offense better,” he said. “They can’t be a weapon if they don’t know the offense.”

Taggart said Jakes was put under a lot of pressure last season and said some of it may have been unwarranted since he was learning a new offense.

But he said this season, Jakes and Doughty have no excuses because they’ve had a year to learn the offense.

“Now (Jakes) knows the offense, and he’s had the spring,” Taggart said. “Brandon’s had a whole year to go through it, and now he’s got the spring, so now it’s just about getting reps and going out and do it.”