Optimism high at football reception

Ten-year-old Clayton Bush of Bowling Green, left, admires the new white football helmet amongst WKU’s past two helmets with friend Mason Graves, 10, of Bowling Green during the National Signing Day party held in the Topper Club in February. New uniforms will be unveiled on Friday.

Nick Bratcher

It was a night of wining and dining for WKU football’s Touchdown Club as National Signing Day drew to a close.

With 26 official commitments received Wednesday, there were plenty of reasons to celebrate.

Rivals.com and Scout.com both ranked WKU’s recruiting class No. 1 in the Sun Belt Conference, marking the second straight year the Toppers have received that distinction from Rivals.

The crowd in WKU’s Topper Club, located at the top of the new side of Houchens-Smith Stadium, was so energetic that the first minutes of the event were filled with Head Coach Willie Taggart quieting the crowd by shouting, “Juice! We need some juice in here!”

The evening started with an opening speech by Taggart on the upward direction of the program, in which he praised his assistant coaching staff.

“Recruitment is like brushing your teeth or combing your hair,” Taggart said. “As soon as you stop, you start to look bad. I can honestly say that our guys had their combs and brush — brushing all day, every day and putting together a really nice recruiting class.”

The event then moved to a briefing on each of the 26 recruits by Assistant Coach Eric Mathies, who also serves as recruiting coordinator. Mathies detailed the strengths and weaknesses of the prospects and shared some stories from the recruiting trail as well.

The story of Rivals three-star linebacker Daerius Washington’s recruitment even included WKU President Gary Ransdell.

“When (Washington) came here, he fell in love with Dr. Ransdell, and that kind of sealed it for him,” Mathies said, acknowledging Ransdell in the crowd. “So I appreciate it, Doc. He thought it was the coolest thing ever that the president of the university would take the time out to sit down and visit with him.”

The event was hosted by WKU’s Touchdown Club, which is comprised of WKU football’s biggest monetary supporters.

Overall, they were very pleased with Taggart’s 2011 class.

“I see WKU football headed in a positive direction,” said Bowling Green resident Tommy Hardcastle. “He did very well because the class looks well-rounded. You can tell he’s in it for the long term, and it’s going to make a big difference on the field.”

Greg Keightley, a 1976 WKU alumnus, said he liked the leadership capabilities of the new class.

“Most, if not all, of the kids were captains of their team, and that’s going to bring leadership to the locker room, to the team and to the community,” Keightley said.

Keightley also said Taggart’s recruitment — combined with last season’s efforts — definitely has the program headed in the right direction.

“It’s hard to compare year-to-year,” he said. “But if you look at it over the course of the season, the players continued to play hard and that’s all-important to success.”