WKU Football media day recap: Zappe to start, team anticipates exciting schedule

Offensive+lineman+Mason+Brooks+%28left%29%2C+offensive+coordinator+Zach+Kittley+%28center%29+and+quarterback+Bailey+Zappe+%28right%29+field+questions+from+reporters+during+WKU%27s+media+day.

Offensive lineman Mason Brooks (left), offensive coordinator Zach Kittley (center) and quarterback Bailey Zappe (right) field questions from reporters during WKU’s media day.

Jake Moore, Sports Editor

WKU Football held its annual media day on Tuesday morning, giving players and coaches a chance to answer questions and providing a preview of what the Hilltoppers are feeling as they head into camp for the month of August.

Head Coach Tyson Helton

Helton confirmed what many WKU fans suspected early on during his media appearance. Bailey Zappe, a transfer quarterback from Houston Baptist University, lit up the FCS level of college football during the 2020 season and many assumed he would be at the top of the Hilltopper’s depth chart in a deep quarterback room.

“I think it’s better for us moving in to the season having that guy [Zappe] in place, he knows he’s the guy,” Helton said. “I think we can go ahead and say yeah, he’s going to be the starter.”

Zappe isn’t the only quarterback that Helton has his eye on. He noted that there’s a lot of talent amongst WKU’s six rostered quarterbacks and now the competition will turn to who will fill the no. 2 slot to back up Zappe. Helton brought up San Diego State transfer Carson Baker as one of his options.

“Carson transferred in from San Diego State, really excited about him and what he can bring to the table, we’ve got some good young quarterbacks in that room,” Helton said. “… Bailey [Zappe] will be the starter, really got to try to see who’s the backup, that’ll be really important for us and there’ll be a couple guys pushing for that spot.”

Helton then addressed his team’s challenging non-conference slate which features away games against Army and Michigan State as well as a home matchup with Indiana.

“I think it’s gonna be a special game when we go to Army, the 20th anniversary of September 11th, that’ll be a great atmosphere and our guys will be excited to play in that,” Helton said. “You look at another exciting game, Indiana at home… they’ll probably be a top-15 team when they show up here so it’s a great opportunity for us to be on a platform to showcase our ability and hopefully we’ll get a win, we’ll close out the non-conference at Michigan State, another great arena to play in – definitely challenging, but we like those games, we embrace those games.”

Helton also expressed that he and his staff are glad that things are starting to return to normal in terms of pandemic protocols but reiterated that his program will still use caution to keep things running smoothly.

“I think we’re trending back to as normal as possible,” Helton said. “Our administration has done a fantastic job all the way up to this point making sure that we follow the protocols, we did what we needed to do but it’s time to try to get back to normal. We’ll be cautious about what we do, you can’t predict the future but you’ve always got to be cautious and make sure you’re doing things the right way.”

The Offense

Zappe shared that he had not officially been told he had been picked as the starting quarterback until that very morning.

“I guess [I found out] about the same time y’all did,” Zappe said with a laugh. “They kind of kept it under wraps, we had a great spring, a great summer. I was working towards first-game starter.”

Zappe also made it clear that he has completely bought in to his new team’s vision and expects great things from the upcoming season.

“I firmly believe we’re going to go 12-0,” Zappe said. “We have a great offense, a great defense, the guys that we have on this team I believe in 100%. I don’t think there’s a single game on this schedule that we can’t go out there and win.”

Offensive coordinator Zach Kittley said that he was glad to hear Zappe’s confidence, noting that his mentality is what his team needs to have entering the season.

“Confidence is key… it’s hard to win a college football game no matter who you’re playing, where you’re at,” Kittley said. “But, definitely, we like to have that mentality. We’re not scared of anybody. So I love hearing that.”

Kittley shared that there are two key areas he wants his squad to improve on as the team heads to training camp – self inflicted wounds and competition for starting spots.

“Turnovers, dropped balls, penalties, some of those things. Those are things that can always hurt you on a drive,” Kittley said. “I feel like we’ve done a good job of bringing in a lot of really talented players, we’re really deep at a lot of different positions,  [we need to] make sure we’re creating that competition.”

Offensive lineman Mason Brooks said that he hopes to work on his pass protection game throughout training camp and gave a shoutout to fellow Hilltopper DeAngelo Malone for the help he provides during practices.

“When you have someone like Malone to practice against everyday, you have good days and you have bad days,” Brooks said with a smile. “That’s the benefit of Malone and the curse of having Malone on your team.”

The Defense

Defensive coordinator Maurice Crum also brought up the depth of his roster and praised free safety A.J. Brathwaite Jr. on his development, stating that he is someone on defense WKU fans should look out for.

“The guy in particular I’m looking forward to seeing is A.J. Brathwaite in the free safety position, he’s a guy that’s been in this program a long time, a guy that’s waited for his opportunity behind Devon Key,” Crum said. “I think he’s going to show up, he’s a very cerebral football player.”

Defensive end Juwuan Jones, who has started every game for the Hilltoppers over the last two seasons, shared that the secret to his consistent health and availability comes down to putting in the work.

“Sometimes you’ve got to come in early, even if you don’t want to wake up at 6 a.m.,” Jones said. “You have to come in early, roll out, stretch… just take it one day at a time. Sometimes you wake up, you’re like, ‘man, it’s tough’, but you know there’s a goal… you just got to just keep going.”

Defensive back Antwon Kincade stated he hopes to improve on man coverage over the course of preseason camp in order to boost his draft stock.

“Every DB has to be great at man coverage,” Kincade said. “Everybody loves to play man in the NFL and I want to be a pro one day so just getting my man coverage down, working on concepts of the offense, just being a smarter football player.”

Kincade also said that now that former Hilltopper Devon Key has left the Hill to play for the Kansas City Chiefs, he has big shoes to fill, but shared his appreciation for how Key helped him as a teammate.

“[Key] was a different guy, he was a different breed… he made my job a lot easier because he knew a lot of things,” Kincade said. “He put me in great positions, not having a guy like him will be hard to replace… I’m happy that Dev is where he is.”

Defensive end Jeremy Darvin expressed his faith in defensive coordinator Maurice Crum and had nothing but good things to say about his defensive philosophy.

“Coach Crum is a genius in his own way,” Darvin said. “He’s really done a great job of getting the guys locked in, all the newcomers that we have, all on the same page and connected together. It really helps us having those veterans sprinkled in throughout there so we can get that communication, not only from [Crum] but from the players as well.”

The Hilltoppers will spend the rest of August shaking off the summer rust in fall training camp and will officially take the field against UT Martin on Sept. 2 to open the 2021 season at home at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

Sports Editor Jake Moore can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Charles_JMoore.