WKU football team on the right kind of juice entering 2010 season

WKU football team on the right kind of juice entering 2010 season

Jonathan Lintner

The WKU football team — led by Head Coach Willie Taggart — is out to build a program with plenty of “juice.”

As if the Football Bowl Subdivision team with the nation’s longest losing streak, imposing non-conference schedule and new coaching staff needs any more problems.

Juicing, as baseball’s Mark McGwire, football’s Brian Cushing and track’s Marion Jones will tell you, isn’t a great thing in the sports world. It ruins seasons, careers and long-term health.

But the juice Taggart passed around all spring and through three weeks of fall camp is of a different variety.

Whereas the bad juice gives an athlete energy, Taggart’s juice is energy itself. And it made fall camp — three weeks that were hardly characterized by fall-like temperatures — a fun time.

“When things get tough, the guys don’t even look at it that way,” Taggart said. “That’s how we want it to be, because we’re going to have some tough times where we’ve got to find something fun out of it, and that will make it alright.”

What’s most reassuring about WKU’s crawl back to the top could be that the Toppers are already juicing. The closest they came to the current energy level last season was the week of practices following the 63-7 season-opening loss at Tennessee.

That week, coaches rushed around the field, literally pushing players to get better. And the chain — the one nobody really got an explanation for — made its first appearance around Head Coach David Elson’s neck. Then after a 35-13 home loss to South Florida, the energy and will to get better seemed to disappear.

And maybe, at that point, Elson and company settled on the fact that the 2009 season wasn’t going to turn itself around.

You might not hear that from the players or the couple of coaches who Taggart kept around, because there’s no need for them to throw Elson under the bus. But there’s an energy — or “juice,” as Taggart has put it so many times — in this team right now.

“I think guys have really bought into what I’m looking for when I talk about energy and juice,” Taggart said. “We’ve been having it consistently out here at practice, and we’ve been having some good practices because of it.”

Junior safety Mark Santoro said August marked what was “by far the hardest” of his four fall camps at WKU.

“We put three weeks of a lot of work in,” Santoro said. “With that kind of work, guys are going to get better no matter what.”

The bad kind of juice usually translates to better performance. It sounds like Santoro expects Taggart’s kind to translate to something good too.

Maybe not wins right away or a total turnaround, but probably enough to make the Toppers wonder why they weren’t juicing before this season.