Like the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end eventually. But for the 19 WKU football seniors that will walk through the tunnel and onto Feix Field for the final time on Saturday, the good things may never truly come to an end. Not for this class.
This class has been through it all. This class has helped build the foundation for WKU football at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level, and despite enduring a lengthy losing streak early in the process, has gotten WKU bowl-eligible for the second consecutive season.
What this senior class has done is not something that will ever be forgotten. Though the good times of playing football every Saturday may be coming to an end, the true satisfaction of leaving a stamp on a football program will forever be linked with every single senior that will be recognized on Saturday.
“This senior group is special,” WKU head coach Willie Taggart said. “They came here when we were going through the transition and things were bad. They persevered and saw it through and they are reaping the benefits. They are leaving WKU a better place than when they got here. We should appreciate all of these guys. It’s a very, very, very special group. They have done so much for our university and our football program.”
Sometimes success can overshadow what it took to get there. With WKU bowl-eligible for the second-straight season, the Hilltopper seniors understand the path to success. Though it may not have been easy, the end result has been life-changing for many of these seniors.
“This team has been through a lot of ups and downs,” WKU senior defensive lineman Kenny Martin said. “We had a lot of downs, but throughout those tough trials and tribulations, we always came together and to be honest, it might sound cliché, but it is really a family. If anybody has a problem, we come talk to each other. We built a big chemistry and built a bond for years.”
The bond built by this senior class is one that probably could only be understood by those within the Hilltopper locker room. Enduring a transition, a 26-game losing streak and a coaching change during their careers on the Hill, these seniors have defined the word perseverance. And now, as they near their final home game at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium, these seniors can finally sit back and enjoy the little things.
“We are just trying to enjoy it,” WKU senior tight end Jack Doyle said. “I know the young guys are trying to enjoy their seniors. I know that is what Coach Taggart has been preaching. I’m just trying to enjoy the little things and the ins-and-outs of football.”
Doyle, a three-time team captain, is one of the Hilltopper seniors that will have his name etched all over the WKU record books when his time on the Hill is finished. Currently sitting second on the all-time receptions list, Doyle needs just 15 catches to tie the program’s all-time record for catches in a career. His offensive counterpart, quarterback Kawaun Jakes, will join him in those record books, already holding the single-season record for touchdown passes, and needs just two touchdown passes on Saturday to break the career record.
Jakes and Doyle have seen this transition firsthand, as both started as freshmen in 2009, and have worked side-by-side with the Hilltopper offense ever since.
“I’ve been blessed to have the same quarterback for four years,” Doyle said. “That is definitely a key to our chemistry building. He’s one of my best friends, and we have built that relationship over the past four years. I have had a lot of fun playing with him. He is one of the hardest workers I have ever been around and definitely one of the toughest kids I have ever been around.”
And then there’s senior defensive end Quanterus Smith. Smith, who was having arguably one of the greatest defensive seasons in WKU history and on the verge of breaking the Sun Belt Conference’s single-season and career record for sacks, left last Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Lafayette with a knee injury. It turned out that the senior had torn his ACL, and would miss the remainder of the season, including his Senior Day on Saturday.
The disappointment is obvious for someone who was leading the nation in sacks per game and tied for the nation’s lead with 12.5 sacks on the year. But persevering through obstacles is nothing new for Smith, and nothing new for this football team. Smith is another one of the seniors that has been here since the beginning, starting as a freshman in 2009 along with Jakes and Doyle. He understands the term ‘bouncing back’.
Smith, along with Jakes and Doyle, will be only three of the 19 names that Hilltopper Nation will hear on Senior Day Saturday afternoon at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium. To explain the impact that all 19 have had on this program might require a book, or two.
So on this Thanksgiving week, Hilltopper Nation can be thankful for the seniors that have helped set the standard for WKU football, and could possibly send WKU to its first bowl game in school history.