Optimisn high at WKU football media day

Head Coach Willie Taggart took to the podium Tuesday for Western’s 2010 football media day. Taggart, a first-year coach, makes his debut Sept. 4 at Nebraska

Zach Greenwell

This story was originally published Aug. 10, 2010.

Consider the slate officially cleaned for the Western Kentucky football team.

Despite a 20-game losing streak, the longest in the nation, the Toppers said at Tuesday’s media day that they’re moving forward and keeping their past troubles there – in the past.

“If they don’t put it behind them, they’re going to struggle and they’re going to get left behind, because we’ve put it all behind us,” head coach Willie Taggart said. “We can’t do anything about last year – can’t do anything about that. I told our guys on Sunday, ‘Last year is history, this year is a mystery, and today is an opportunity for all of us to determine our legacy.’

“We don’t know what this year holds, but we’re practicing our tails off every single day, and good things will happen for us.”

The Toppers are just two days into their fall camp, but sophomore tight end Jack Doyle said the atmosphere has already changed under Taggart.

“He kept telling us, ‘This is going to be the funnest camp you’ve ever been a part of, but it’s also going to be the hardest,’” Doyle said. “I think that’s the way it needs to be. He’s going to incorporate competition into it, and that makes it fun, but we’re going to be working our tails off to get better.”

Taggart said players are slowly starting to believe that they can reverse their fortunes in 2010.

“It’s a process right now, and right now it’s going in the right direction,” he said. “I think every day we get another guy on board. I don’t think we have many guys going the opposite way, which is great. They’re starting to buy in.

“It’s important to me that we have fun in camp and work hard and we’re competitive. We have to create competitive situations so that guys know what it feels like to win. It’s a great feeling, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Western will begin its season with a daunting schedule of games, including trips to Nebraska, Kentucky and South Florida along with a home game against Indiana.

“It’s a big challenge ahead, but it’s not impossible,” Taggart said. “We won here over the years and we have a great tradition, and we need to get back to that — we have to. Our guys have to understand that things are even better here than they were back then, so we have everything we need to be a championship football team.”

Being a championship football team is on Taggart’s list of goals for this season. It’s a short list – get better every single game, and win a Sun Belt Conference title.

Senior linebacker Thomas Majors said the coaching staff is playing a large role in helping persuade the team that those goals are attainable.

“Our coaches believe in us,” Majors said. “We believe in ourselves that we can do it, but when we’ve got our coaches believing with us at the same time, it helps us believe we’re better. If we believe we’re better, we’re going to work that much harder to get it done.”

With several practices left before the Toppers begin their season Sept. 4 at Nebraska, Taggart said he’s working to build a competitive environment on the field.

Even true freshmen are in the running for starting positions, and Taggart said he “couldn’t care less” if it stays that way for years to come.

“All of them have a chance. The opportunity is there, so it’s what they do with it,” he said. “I mean every single one of them. I just think it’s got to be that way, because you’ve got to allow them all to have an opportunity. The competitors will show up, and they’ll take the jobs.”

When the first win of a new era arrives at Western, Taggart said his first victory as a head coach at his alma mater will be special.

But more importantly, it provides a chance to lift the team’s spirits and “put smiles on the faces” of the fans, he said.

“I think it will be more special for our guys that have been there and been a part of it,” Taggart said. “I haven’t been a part of that, but I know for them it will be. They deserve it. They’ve been through a lot, and that’s why I’m not going to let them settle.

“I want them to think bigger than just one individual. It’ll be special for our team, our players and our community because they want it bad. That’s what got me fired about giving it back to them. I’m jacked up about it.”