The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers of the Sun Belt Conference will travel to Neyland Stadium to face the Tennessee Volunteers to kickoff their sophomore campaign as a Football Championship Series team, formally Division-I. Seventh-year head coach David Elson can feel the enthusiasm building in his program.
“I can’t remember it being like this around here any other year,” Elson said at the team’s Media Day. “Just to see the excitement from our players and coaches, and then you see the reception from the community and our alumni. Everyone is fired up to see us competing at this level. All those things combined have brought the excitement and anticipation to a level I’ve never seen here (at Western Kentucky).”
Coming off a 2-10 season that included games against Alabama, Virginia Tech and Kentucky, the Hilltoppers return only 12 starters. The leading returning tackler for WKU is outside linebacker Blake Boyd,who is a transfer from the University of Louisville.
Offensively, WKU plays running back by committee led by senior Tyrell Hayden. Senior Brandon Smith was recently named the starting quarterback, while sophomore wideout Derrius Brooks served as Smith’s main weapon last season. Senior Jake Gaebler is only 25 receptions away from becoming WKU’s all-time leading receiver.
On defense, Mike Dietzel will begin his second stint as defensive coordinator. He, like Elson, is very upbeat about his team.
“We’ve got a great group of young players on defense that are hungry,” Dietzel said at the team’s Media Day. “They are motivated, athletic, enthusiastic and have a great desire to compete.”
Western Kentucky kicks off against Tennessee at 12:21 p.m. on Sept. 5 at Neyland Stadium.