Last season marked a breakthrough for Western Kentucky tight end Jack Doyle.
A year after suffering a neck injury that cut his season short after just seven games, Doyle came back and played all 12 games for the first time in his career. His 52 catches were almost four times as many as any other WKU receiver. That number was good enough to tie for fifth on the Toppers' single-season receptions list. And he finished the season with second-team All-Sun Belt honors.
One thing he didn't do is score a touchdown.
"That's just kind of a fluke thing. I got tackled a lot inside the 10 and got hounded by the teammates a little bit," Doyle said.
His teammates weren't the only ones giving him grief.
Coach Willie Taggart said he and his staff would rib Doyle "all the time" about his inability to find the end zone.
"He's the only guy I know that got tackled on the 1 four different times. Literally, four different times," Taggart said. "The players always joke with him, 'Jack doesn't like touchdowns. Better give it to the running back.'
"He must have a thing for these running backs. He knows the next play is going to be a running back dive or something."
Kidding aside, Doyle has been crucial to Taggart's efforts to turn Western Kentucky into a legitimate FBS program.
The Indianapolis native started 10 games his freshman season, which was the year the Toppers finished 0-12 in their first run as a member of the Sun Belt Conference.
Taggart arrived in Bowling Green the following season, and he's been relying on Doyle ever since.
"To be honest, he's been the heart of our offense. Not only our offense but the heart of our football team," Taggart said. "We struck gold being able to inherit Jack here. To be able to have someone of his quality here already was a blessing."
Taggart's offensive plan calls for heavy use of the tight end. He compared Western's scheme to that of the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints, who have made Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham the top two tight ends in the NFL.
Taggart sees a similar future for Doyle, a player he has "no doubt" can play at the next level.
First, Doyle is looking forward to another season of progress for the Toppers, who enjoyed the biggest turnaround in Sun Belt history last season and want to build on that momentum in 2012.
"We have a chance to do things that this program's never done. To go to a bowl as a Division I program is one of them," Doyle said. "That's definitely one of our focuses. And if we do it one thing at a time, one game at a time, I think we'll be in a position to do that."
Ben Roberts Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com