WKU Football media day: Coaches and players preview the upcoming season ahead of fall camp


Credit: WKU Athletics

WKU Head Coach Tyson Helton and the Hilltoppers retake the field after the first half. The game was tied 10-10 at the half.

Camden Bush

The WKU football team fielded questions from the media Wednesday, July 27 and Thursday, July 28 to preview the upcoming season ahead of fall camp.

Conference-USA hosted its annual football media day in Arlington, Texas on Wednesday. The following day, WKU held its own press conference in the Jack and Jackie Harbaugh Club located in Houchens-Smith Stadium. 

Head coach Tyson Helton, offensive coordinator Ben Arbuckle, defensive end Juwuan Jones, tight end Joey Beljan and defensive coordinator Tyson Summers were present and discussed the highly anticipated 2022-2023 Hilttopper season. 


Coach Helton discussed the lofty expectations the team has this year after falling just short of a conference title last season.

“We’re very excited at WKU this year.” Helton said. “Think we’ve got a really good football team. A great group of men, guys that love to compete. We are really looking forward to a competitive schedule this year, as you know, we played in the championship game last year and winning championships is really important. So if we can stay healthy, play well, and do what we need to do. We’d like to get back there.”

The Hilltoppers, however, have lost many key contributors from last year’s team, primarily on offense. Gone are starting quarterback Bailey Zappe and top receiver Jerreth Sterns, but Helton said he still feels strongly about the team’s offense. 

“The biggest thing is you’ve got to re-evaluate your team every year and put your best 11 out on the field, offensively and defensively.” Helton said. “You play to your strengths and I think we’ve got a good offense coming back this year. I have really liked our quarterback room. We’re gonna have a quarterback battle through fall camp, and I’m gonna wait to name a quarterback. But I am really excited about the talent that’s in that room, and we’ve got really good skill players.”

Jared Doege, graduate student from West Virginia University and Austin Reed, transfer from West Florida University are the two front runners for the starting quarterback position and the starter will be named at the end of fall camp, Helton said. 

“They are both really good leaders,” Helton said. “Both of them have achieved a lot in their career so far. Jared Doege has played a lot of football. He’s played in a lot of big games, you know, just a really good leader, tough guy. And this is his last go around so he wants to make his best year yet.”

“Austin Reed, the best way I can describe him is as a gunslinger,” Helton continued. “You know, he, he goes out there you don’t know where it’s headed, but it’s headed there fast and he’s fun to watch. And, you know, he’s still trying to learn the system. He’s still trying to figure some things out. He hasn’t been here as long as Jared, you know. He has a really impressive resume, I mean to say he won a national championship on the division two level, those are really really hard at any level.”

Coach Helton has been impressed with the team’s competitive nature during the off-season. 

“They love to compete at every second, it doesn’t matter what it is. When I walk in the locker room, they’re competing at ping pong, they’re competing at darts, they are competing with cards, whatever it might be,” he said. “They like to compete and it shows on the field. So that’s what I’ve been really really impressed with with our football team. You know, so as long as we keep competing and stay healthy we will have good chances.”

The Hilltoppers had one of the best offensive lines in the country last season, ranked as the 14th best in 2021. WKU was able to retain most of its lineman heading into next season. Offensive Coordinator Ben Arbuckle believes that the O-Line is really talented and finding a new quarterback in the off-season to play behind it was really easy.

“Whenever you’re recruiting a quarterback, one of the first questions they ask is ‘how’s your offensive line look’?” said Arbuckle.  “It was easier for us to say, hey, you know, we got the best center in the country returning. We got Boe Wilson who was all conference last year. We got experienced guys who have played ball who are going to step in and we got some really talented guys we’re gonna grow into that role.

The Hilltoppers’ defense was probably one of the biggest question marks heading into this season. The unit allowed 30 points a game last season and gave up 438 yards per game on average. WKU hired former Florida defensive analyst, Tyson Summers, early this year to try and secure the defensive side of the ball. 

“We want to be able to play with an aggressive style of defense,” Summers said. “If you watch offenses today you see tempo all the time, you see them trying to create explosive plays, and them really trying to push the ball down the field and be aggressive. What I really believe is that our best way to combat that is to play an aggressive style of defense with it and we would certainly want to do that with a high degree of intelligence at the same time.”

Another big focus of the day was the continuing changing nature of college football. Things like conference realignment, the transfer portal and NIL deals were discussed. Coach Helton voiced support for the direction college football as a whole and C-USA are heading. 

“I’ve seen this conference recreated many times over, and every time it’s become stronger, so we’re really excited to be a part of the conference,”  Helton said. “It’s always an exciting conference to play in. And we’ll have some teams here that I’m focused on in 2022. We have  some great Conference USA teams that are still in the conference. So it will all be really, really competitive.”

Fall camp began on Friday, June 29th  and the Hilltoppers will open the season against Austin Peay Saturday, August 27th at 11 p.m.CT.