Fall camp update: WKU secondary continues to gel, younger players step up

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Credit: Steve Roberts/WKU Athletics

WKU Hilltoppers defensive back Antwon Kincade (1) during fall camp practice #4 at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium on August 7, 2021 in Bowling Green, KY

Wyatt Sparkman, Football reporter

As the second week of WKU Football’s fall training camp comes to a close, members of the Hilltoppers’ secondary unit took time to speak with the media about how the group has gelled together throughout camp.

Antwon Kincade is entering his fifth season on the Hill and has assumed the veteran role amongst WKU’s defensive backs now that former Hilltopper Devon Key is playing professionally for the Kansas City Chiefs. He expressed his excitement for some of the younger guys in the secondary group, namely A.J. Brathwaite Jr. and Kendrick Simpkins.

“He kind of reminds me of me, I came in my freshman year, I was a little spark,” Kincade said, talking about Simpkins. “…He’s a guy that’s on the sideline, he’s that honey badger type of player that you’re waiting on just to let off the leash. I’m excited for him, he just needs to learn the defense a little more, but he’s getting it. He’s picking it up really fast.

Brathwaite is another man to keep an eye on as the Miami, Fla. native enters his fourth year as a Hilltopper. Kincade shrugged off his fellow defensive back’s quiet demeanor, praising his hard-hitting athletic ability.

“You gotta always watch for the quiet guys, you never know what they will do,” Kincade said. “[Brathwaite] just had that look all the time – like he’s going to mess somebody up. His greatest ability is coming down during running fits and smashing you, and that’s what he’s gonna do. He’s just so gifted in his footwork, the way he reads the quarterback in the post. He’s a very gifted player, I’ve been excited about the guy since he came in.”

Brathwaite takes the praise and expectations from his teammates in stride, sharing that he’s ready to step up and fill a bigger role in the coming season. He is replacing a four-year starter in Key, but was a key contributor on special teams for the past two seasons and played some snaps on defense to help prepare for this moment.

“It’s my time to go, so I’m ready for the opportunity,” Brathwaite said. “…I always put pressure on myself just because Devon Key is a high standard, so it’s a great model to look after – we still keep in contact with each other, always calling and texting about plays.”

Safeties coordinator Andy LaRussa shared his thoughts on one of the newest faces on WKU’s roster, Georgia Tech transfer Kaleb Oliver. Oliver was picked up from the transfer portal on Aug. 6 during the early days of camp.

“He’s got great length, I think that’s fairly obvious,” LaRussa said. “Smart football player, run-and-hit kind of guy, can play the ball, obviously builds depth [in] the room which is important – it’s a long season so we need to have as many available bodies as possible.”

LaRussa also gave a nod to Brathwaite for taking on what used to be Key’s responsibilities in the Hilltoppers’ secondary.

“It’s tough when you’re behind Devon Key because for a couple seasons you’re probably not going to play a whole heck of a lot,” LaRussa said. “He’s bought into the role of special teams, he’s bought into learning for Devon. We all see Devon having some successes at the next level and we hope that continues, but A.J. has put his time in. A.J. did his work. A.J. has learned from him and A.J. is more than ready to go.”

“It’s been a rough hill the past couple years, but I feel like our coaches came together, our plans came together, now we’re really on one page,” Brathwaite said. “Everybody’s on one page so we can take the next step.”

The Hilltoppers will continue grinding away in training camp further into August as they prepare to welcome UT Martin to Bowling Green on Sept. 2 to kick off the season.

Football reporter Wyatt Sparkman can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @wyattsparkman3.