Tops’ toughness pleases Taggart on first day of full contact

Head Coach Willie Taggart laughs with junior defensive back Kareem Peterson during a water break at WKU’s spring practice Friday afternoon at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

Emily Patton

Head Coach Willie Taggart said day four of spring practice separated the boys from the men.

With the temperature in the mid-40s and a steady rain Saturday, it was the first day of full-contact hitting for the Toppers.

“We always talk about separating the men from the boys, and today was one of those days where we went out there with live bullets,” Taggart said. “And we could really see who’s ready to play and who’s not. And a couple guys we thought were on the soft side proved us wrong.

“We’ve still got some boys out there that are growing up quick and have no choice but to grow up. But we had a lot of guys step up and make plays on both sides of the ball.”

As the first week of practice concluded, the Toppers said it is still clear that the team is far ahead of where it was at this time last year.

“We’re getting back into everything and getting our techniques back down, and so far it’s going pretty good,” senior offensive lineman Wes Jeffries said. “We’re a year into the whole system, and I can remember last year during the first day of spring we didn’t know what was going on.

“Everybody’s got a feel for it now.”

Jeffries said that because of the physical improvement, the Toppers mental attitude has also improved.

“We know we can play with this type of competition now,” he said. “Last year some of the guys were hesitant about playing against some of these schools, but now we know we can beat them.”

Quarterbacks continue to battle

Although junior Kawaun Jakes remains the starter for WKU at this point, Taggart says he is encouraging competition at the quarterback position.

Both Jakes and freshman redshirt Brandon Doughty have been working closely together through practice.

Taggart said that Doughty was the better player over Jakes on Saturday.

“Kawaun looks bigger and stronger and is trying to become that leader we all want him to be, but we want Brandon to be that, too,” Taggart said. “Those guys are taking strides with that. Kawuan’s progressing in that and looks sharper in his drops. Today he didn’t have a great day, but when he has a bad day, I want to see how he responds.

“I told them both there has to be competition, and that’s how you have to prepare every day. It’s going great right now, and I’m loving it. Before we only had one guy. Now we’ve got two there that can compete because Brandon’s doing some good things.”

Taggart has taken over as quarterbacks coach in his second season, but he said it is something he really enjoys.

“I love it,” Taggart said. “I played the position, I understand the position, and that helps. To be honest, that’s my heart, the quarterback position — it’s all I did. And it’s been exciting to spend more time with those guys, and at the end of the day I want them to see the offense exactly how I see it, so when we get into a game, if there are any problems, they’ll know what to do.

“It’s been fun. It probably hasn’t been as much fun for them, but for me it’s been fun. I have high expectations for them at that position, and that’s how they have to practice, walk, talk, go to class. We have high expectations for that position.”

Linebacker position becoming clearer

Leading the race for middle linebacker is junior Tye Golden, Taggart said.

“Right now if I had to pick one guy there, it’d be Tye Golden,” Taggart said. “He’s ready to play. He’s hungry and he’s taking pride in everything. He’s also a kid that’s totally different than he was when we first got here. I thought he was a little on the soft side. I told him before he needed to think about whether he wanted to play this sport or not.

“But he proved me wrong, and he’s having a heck of a spring.”

But the starting linebacker positions remain wide open with talent showing up in multiple players.

“A guy that really showed up today was Tenerio Davis,” Taggart said. “He made some plays today. Xavius Boyd also stood out and so did one of our walk-ons, Tyler Julian. Every time I turned around he was doing something. Everybody’s buying in and competing, and that’s making us better as a football team.”