WKU football opens spring practice; roster includes several changes

Jnuior running back Bobby Rainey (yellow) runs drills with his teammates during the team’s spring practice on Monday afternoon. Rainey wears a yellow jersey to denote that he cannot be tackled.

Emily Patton

The WKU football team got back on the field Monday.

There are 81 players on roster for spring practice, including 20 starters and 43 letterwinners returning from last fall.

Monday was the first of 15 practices, leading up to the annual spring game on April 16, and Head Coach Willie Taggart said he has already seen a difference in the Toppers.

“It’s night and day,” Taggart said after Monday’s practice. “Guys know how we are going to practice and what we expect from them in terms of enthusiasm and effort. They understand each other now, so as a coach you expect things to go smoother.

“Again, these guys want it, and I think that’s a huge difference. They are a lot more confident now.”

Those that left the team during the offseason include receivers Blake Ayers, Dexter Haynes, Clark Jeter and Eric Williams, defensive backs Denton Allmon and John Garrett, running back Dalton Cissell, offensive lineman Jebb Lenhart and tight end Cy Schroeder.

Junior safety Mark Santoro is also no longer with the team, leaving because of what WKU media relations called medical reasons. Santoro struggled with head and neck injuries for much of the 2010 season.

Both junior tight end Jack Doyle and junior running back Bobby Rainey wore yellow jerseys Monday, meaning they were exempt from contact.

Doyle missed much of last year due to a recurring neck injury.

Junior Ryan Wallace, former Bowling Green High School tight end, has been cleared by the NCAA to play at WKU and will have two more years of eligibility as a Topper.

Wallace was out on the field Monday practicing, wearing No. 88.

Wallace began his football career at Colorado before transferring to Kentucky.

Taggart said Wallace has shown talent as a long snapper, which is a position the Toppers have been lacking.

Also on the field was sophomore Courtney Dalcourt, who is now working as a wide receiver. He originally came to WKU as a quarterback but has missed the past two seasons because of two separate knee injuries.

“He has been through a rough time for us,” Taggart said. “He made one catch today, and I was like, ‘Whoa.’ It was a big-time catch. Courtney is a competitive player, and once he gets used to his knee, he will be the same Courtney we brought in here.”

Sitting out of practice for minor injuries were safety Ryan Beard, offensive linemen Sean Conway and Adam Smith, tight end Tristan Jones, running back Braxston Miller, receiver Marcus Vasquez and defensive tackle Brandon Whitty.

Taggart said he noticed the defense had an advantage over the offense Monday, but altogether all the players are in better shape than they were last year at this time.

The Toppers will practice every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday for the next three weeks, and then Tuesday and Thursday during the week prior to the spring game.

“The beauty of it all is the guys came out and were really working hard and really trying,” Taggart said. “When guys are giving you 110-percent effort, you feel good as a coach knowing that things are going in the right direction.”