The Prodigal Quarterback: WKU’s Jakes redeems himself

Sophomore Kawaun Jakes won the starting quarterback position for WKU’s Sept. 4 game at Nebraska, but to do so, he had to overcome a rocky start with Head Coach Willie Taggart. Jakes, who threw for 1,516 yards and nine touchdowns in 2009, injured his ankle playing pickup basketball last spring and drew the ire of his new coach.

Zach Greenwell

Sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes said he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.

The topic that draws his ire — an ankle injury suffered playing pickup basketball in the spring — has been addressed so many different ways by reporters that Jakes is out of things to say about it.

“It was a dumb mistake,” Jakes said. “It’s an experience I hate talking about it — just learn from it.”

Jakes, who started the final eight games for WKU last season, injured the ankle after only four spring practices with Willie Taggart at the helm, immediately digging himself into a deep hole with the first-year head coach.

Junior college transfer Matt Pelesasa earned nearly all of the spring reps at the position as a result and entered fall camp as WKU’s No. 1 quarterback.

But Jakes wasn’t ready to be forgotten so easily. He rededicated himself to being both physically and mentally ready over the summer — initiatives that didn’t go overlooked by the coaching staff.

“He’s doing a great job in our meeting sessions,” said Mike Sanford, quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator, at the Toppers’ media day. “He’s taken his note-taking and his meeting preparation to another level. I see him with his different-colored highlighters out. He’s taken to a lot of stuff I’m trying to preach to him, and that’s encouraging.”

It wasn’t long into fall camp that Jakes began to close the gap to Pelesasa. When Pelesasa missed several straight practices with a sore throwing arm, Jakes firmly took the lead in the quarterback race.

Just days later, Taggart chose Jakes over Pelesasa and true freshman Brandon Doughty as the team’s starting quarterback for WKU’s first game Saturday at Nebraska.

“It’s one decision we wanted to get solidified so that we can start putting our offense and defense together and get some continuity with each other,” Taggart said. “Kawaun did the things that we were looking for — being consistent, making plays and becoming a leader — and he did it more consistently than the other guys.”

Jakes threw for 1,516 yards and nine touchdowns and ran for 366 yards and five scores as the Toppers finished 0-12 last season, nearly leading them to victory in his first career start at Navy.

But despite an encouraging rookie campaign, Jakes left spring practices worried about one thing — whether or not Taggart thought he was a “bad kid.”

“It was very disappointing because he was expecting me to be 100 percent in, and I showed I wasn’t,” Jakes said.

Jakes and the coaches have just now started to make a few jokes about the incident. Jakes even sarcastically said Friday that he was playing some lock-down defense on the court until the ankle sprain.

But the event that nearly cost Jakes his starting career at WKU can only be slightly joked about, Sanford said. Jakes had to work hard to get out of the doghouse.

“It’s not the way you want to get off on your first impression,” Sanford said. “You really do only have one opportunity to make a first impression, and unfortunately, his was not a good one. But with football, you also have an opportunity to win back trust.

“He’s done that to this point, and we’ve just got to continue down the same path that he’s on right now.”