Rooney and Smith look for more airtime in upcoming season

Josh Buckman

For the second year in a row, Western coaches are promising to pass the ball more. And with new quarterback, Justin Haddix, being a better thrower than runner, it may actually come true this time.

“We’re looking to expand the offensive attack,” said senior wide receiver Shannon Hayes. “So we’re going to have a balanced attack.”

The reason to focus more on the passing game is because the team lost several key offensive starters to graduation.

“I would say we’ve got some good wide receivers,” said offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach T.J. Weist.

The decision to focus more on the offense caused some changes that were made during spring practice. Originally, senior Casey Rooney and junior Perez Smith were supposed to compete for the starting quarterback job.

But there was plenty of depth at quarterback, and the wide receiver position was thin.

“I was a little disappointed at first,” Rooney said. “But you should do what’s best for the team. And if I can make more plays at receiver and help the team, that’s best.”

Coach David Elson gives Rooney and Smith a lot of credit for handling the situation so well.

“They have been great as far as their attitude,” he said. “Those guys are competitors. They just want to play.”

Last year the Hilltoppers averaged 11 passing attempts for 112 yards per game. So far the coaching staff has indicated they might pass as much as 50 percent of the time this year.

Rooney caught 29 passes for 603 yards and two touchdowns last season. Hayes grabbed 20 balls for 241 yards and one touchdown. They are the top two receivers returning from last season.

“We expect to throw the ball a lot more,” Rooney said. “Last year we ran the ball about 83 percent of the time. This year we’re hoping to go 50-50, but we’re most likely going to (run) 60 percent of the time.”

Even though it might sound like Western is sacrificing its reputation as a running school, Hayes insists that this is still a team that likes to run the ball.

“They set (the number of passes per game) high, but we’re still a running team,” he said. “We still plan to pound the ball in.”

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