USF trip ‘breath of fresh air’ for WKU’s Florida natives

USF trip breath of fresh air for WKUs Florida natives

Zach Greenwell

For sophomore defensive tackle Kenny Martin, WKU seems a lifetime away from his home in Orlando, Fla.

Martin said he’s not used to having family watch him play in Bowling Green, so he’s trying to wrangle up every seat he can get for the Toppers’ game on Saturday against South Florida in Tampa, Fla.

“It’s hard to find tickets right now,” Martin said. “I’ve got the whole family coming. I don’t have family here in Kentucky, so I’m trying to trade off with other guys, but I’m going to get those tickets.”

The trip to Florida will be a homecoming of sorts for all 23 WKU players that hail from the Sunshine State.

Three players — freshman defensive back Jerome Speights and freshmen offensive linemen Dalton Diehl and Luis Polanco — call Tampa home.

Head Coach Willie Taggart is a Bradenton, Fla., native himself, and he said he’s also had plenty of requests for tickets from friends and family. Taggart said not everybody can get a free seat, and the only people guaranteed to have one at this point are his parents.

“I’ve always been one of those guys that wanted to impress my parents,” Taggart said. “They’ve been proud of me. I’m going back in front of them again and want to impress them again, but I want our football team to impress South Florida.”

Sophomore defensive tackle Jamarcus Allen, who originally committed to South Florida before choosing WKU, said he’ll have about 30 family members and friends coming from Orlando for the game.

Martin (6 feet, 270 pounds) said he likes to refer to himself and Allen (5 feet 11 inches, 277 pounds) as the “tiny tackles” because of their relatively small stature. The two played across town from each other in high school, and they said that many of their friends from that time now attend South Florida.

Allen said he knows his friends don’t have any allegiance to WKU, but he hopes they can put away their Bulls paraphernalia for one day.

“With your friends’ and family’s eyes on you, you don’t want to mess up on any play,” Allen said. “Hopefully they’ll be wearing that Topper red. If not, we’ve got a couple of phone calls to make after the game.”

The game will also be a big recruiting opportunity for Taggart and the rest of the WKU coaching staff. Twelve of the 17 members of Taggart’s first recruiting class were Florida natives, and he said he’s hoping to draw in more with a strong showing Saturday.

“It’s good to go out and show our guys what we’re capable of doing,” Taggart said. “If you can go down there and get you a win and play really well, I think it just sparks a lot more interest in our football program.”

But for those who have already made the trip from Florida to Kentucky, like Martin, the homecoming is simply a “breath of fresh air.”

“We’re 14 hours from home, give or take with how fast you drive,” Martin said. “The family’s going to get a chance to see how much work we’ve been putting in at college. It’s going to feel like a homecoming, so we’re going to put on a show. The tiny tackles are going to put on a show.”