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March 21, 2011

WKU Opens Spring Football Season

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Don't gauge WKU's progress by coach Willie Taggart's facial hair.

Taggart's chin-strap beard has some gray hairs around his chin. But it isn't because of anything that went on during today's first day of spring practice.

"This gray hair, this is from last year," he said. "It just won't go away. But it's night and day. Guys know what to expect now. They know how we're gonna practice, they know what we're looking for from an enthusiasm and energy standpoint and just understand each other a lot better. Things should go a lot smoother."

Despite having three new coaches, defensive coordinator Lance Guidry, offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni and defensive backs coach Alonzo Hampton, there weren't many delays, if any during practice. Nearly all participants being returning players, also helped the fluidity.

"I don't think there's any difference because it's my fourth year in it," junior running back Bobby Rainey said. "With me being experienced with football, period and with the new offense I got, I got it last year and it's just me mastering it now. With the young guys, they're just getting a better understanding."

Rainey donned the yellow jersey, meaning he couldn't be tackled or even pushed hard. Sophomore tight end Jack Doyle also had the yellow on as well, coming off last fall's recurring neck injury.

"The jersey's still good," Rainey said with a laugh. "It's always been good and it's still good."

Redshirt freshman Courtney Dalcourt was also back on the field, though not at quarterback. After tearing both ACLs in his knees in successive years, Dalcourt lined up at wide receiver.

"It's good to see him back there competing and having fun and he's out there with the guys," Taggart said. "I think more than anything, that's what he missed the most, being out with the guys and competing and contributing. He's excited to be out there and do it again. He made one catch today that I was like, 'Whoa, that's a big time catch.' Courtney's a competitor and we know once he gets used to knee, being out there and running around again, hopefully we'll get the same Courtney that we brought in here."

Former Bowling Green (Ky.) star Ryan Wallace made his debut for the Toppers, after transferring from Kentucky in January. Wallace was granted a hardship waiver earlier this month and will be eligible to play this fall.

But though Wallace plays mostly tight end, he might have already found another niche.

"We're looking for a long snapper and I think we found one," Taggart said. "He was over there snapping that ball and I said, 'Ryan, you might have a career snapping that ball there.' He could be really good at that."

Guidry's addition has so far been smooth for WKU's defense. But it's still an adjustment overall and will be ongoing this spring.

"It's always different when you have a new coordinator," junior defensive end Jared Clendenin said. "It feels like freshman year all over again. Ever since I've gotten here, we've had a new defensive coordinator every year. You can't feel like you get comfortable unless you've got the same guys. It was a lot different than last year but one main thing was effort and running to the ball and I feel like we did that."

But already, the defense has set a list of goals for the duration of the spring.

"We wanna get two turnovers a day," Clendenin said. "That's one big thing. Everybody to the ball, that's a big goal. We don't wanna see nobody on film lagging behind. Just have fun out here doing it. Turnovers, that's the major thing."

Though it took Rainey a pause and a laugh to remember, the offense has goals as well.

"We've been talking about it when the last game was over," he said. "We go by the big three and that's dreams, aspiration and our goals. We do those things, we'll get our Sun Belt championship and basically meet our goals that we want."

Taggart has also been looking to this point since the 2010 season ended. Now, if he could just not add to the grayness on his facial hair for the rest of the spring.

"I didn't get emotionally hijacked," Taggart said. "I might have to bury that word. Guys have been doing a great job. I told them I don't want anymore gray hair. I'm still a young guy and tell them to look out for me."




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