Long-suffering seniors help WKU weather FBS transition

Senior offensive lineman Mychal Patterson points to the heavens after WKU won its game Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette. WKU defeated ULL 54-21 to snap a 26-game losing streak.

Zach Greenwell

WKU’s senior class is in a rare position.

The 12 members of the class – including Derrick Elder and Mike Gothard, who were forced to quit playing before the season because of injuries – have been the first to watch WKU fully transition into Football Bowl Subdivision play.

Offensive lineman Mychal Patterson and linebacker Orlando Misaalefua are the only two seniors that played for the Toppers in 2006 before the transition.

WKU went 13-10 in Patterson’s first two seasons, but the team’s gone just 4-30 since.

That’s not the way most dream about closing out their college careers, but Patterson said he and the rest of the seniors have grown through the entire process.

“It helps a lot because you learn never to quit,” Patterson said. “There’s been times, like this last game, that we could have quit as soon as they got that touchdown over us, but everybody knew we couldn’t quit. We’ve already tried that way, and that way doesn’t work.”

Head Coach Willie Taggart has had just one season to work with the seniors as the man in charge, but he either helped recruit or coached some of the players as an assistant during the last year of his previous stint at the school in 2006.

He said he remembers a young Patterson claiming in 2006 that he would be able to dunk on Taggart in a game of one-on-one basketball.

Taggart said Patterson is still making the same claim today, but that he and the other seniors have come a long way.

“I know it’s hard for a lot of those guys,” Taggart said. “They came here, and then things got bad. To go through it for the last two years, it’s miserable. When you don’t win, it takes away from everything else.

“To lose the coaching staff that brought you in here has to be hard, and I told them the other day that I appreciate every last one of them.”

The group of seniors – Patterson, Misaalefua, Elder, Gothard, Chris Bullard, Quinterrance Cooper, Nick Hartnett, Rod Johnson, Preston King, Thomas Majors, Seth Tamme, and Dustin Boyer – is a mixture of staples in the starting lineup and career role-players.

But Taggart said their common bond is that they’ve persevered through everything – mounting losses, coaching turmoil, a new staff and system, and an influx of younger players.

“Those guys are the ones that stuck through it all, and those are the guys that went through the bad times,” he said. “We always talk about seeing it through the tough times, and those guys made it through a lot of adversity.

“Those guys are the cornerstone of what our football team is going to be. We can look back at the 2010 team and say that’s the team that really got us going.”

Junior running back Bobby Rainey, arguably the emotional leader of the non-seniors, said it’s been a rough go for the 2010 class. Last year was rock bottom, but the seniors can hang their hats on helping make progress this year, Rainey said.

“With them being the seniors, it just means that much more to them because they’re a part of the history that’s been made this year,” he said. “As far as leadership, that’s all they’ve been doing since I’ve been here – just leading by example.”

Taggart said he’s been pleased with the way the seniors have embraced so many freshmen getting playing time and taking starting jobs.

Patterson said he’s fine with it too, as long as the seniors haven’t sacrificed and struggled for nothing.

“I’d like to be considered as the guys that started it all – the guys that got the ball rolling,” he said. “Hopefully, the younger guys after us will keep it rolling.”