Western Kentucky offensive lineman Forrest Lamp learned a lot about leadership last season.
After being named a team captain as a junior, Lamp was able to settle on the back burner a bit amid a large group of seniors. That gave him a front-row seat to see how the seniors led the Hilltoppers to the best football season in school history.
Western Kentucky won Conference USA and the Miami Beach Bowl and finished with a 12-2 record (8-0 in league play).
Now the team will look to prove that they can do it again.
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“I feel like everybody believes. A lot of people at our Conference USA Media Day picked us to finish second in the East,” Lamp said. “Whether that’s because we lost our quarterback, our tight end and seven starters on defense, whatever the reason may be.”
This year’s Hilltoppers will have to prove that it wasn’t just quarterback Brandon Doughty who took the team so far last season, and Lamp and the offensive line can play a big part in that.
“We have a veteran offensive line. Guys like Forrest Lamp and some others that have played a lot of games and have started,” head coach Jeff Brohm said. “And in my opinion they are the strength of our football team on offense.”
The offense is as ready to help Doughty’s replacement. Eight starters return on offense, including weapons like wide receiver Taywan Taylor and running back Anthony Wales.
“We lost our quarterback, but hopefully the guy that comes in will feel comfortable and with all of the support staff around him we can keep up the progress that we had last year,” Lamp said.
Lamp said a veteran quarterback like Doughty took a lot of pressure off the rest of the offense. That script flips this season, with the line and the running game trying to take the heat off a newcomer. Mike White, a transfer from South Florida, is the opening-day starter.
“We love (the running backs),” Lamp said. “They make it easy for us to block for them, especially because they give us so much credit. They are real selfless. Whoever is back there, we’ll block from them.”
And with the goal of proving that last year wasn’t a “one-hit wonder,” continued success is not just a target but an expectation.
Lamp thinks the stability of the offensive line and the explosiveness of the skill players returning will assure a smooth transition from last season.
“Consistency is key. We want to come back and go to the conference championship, go to another bowl game, and win both of them,” Lamp said. “That’s the goal. You don’t settle for mediocrity. Hopefully we can keep up what we did last year.”
Lamp will be expected to step up as a leader. He says that last year prepared him well for the role and he expects the team not to falter.
“Last year as a captain, I got a little taste of it,” Lamp said. “But I’m excited for my senior year, I’m excited not for me, but just the whole team. Just looking forward to getting out there with those guys and hopefully winning another conference championship in my senior year, and winning another bowl game.”
Coach: Jeff Brohm (20-7 in two seasons at Western Kentucky)
Last season: 12-2 overall; 8-0 (First place in Conference USA East Division)
Returning starters: 12 (8 offense, 4 defense)
Outlook: The reigning Conference USA champions sent out All-America QB Brandon Doughty and the rest of the senior class with a Miami Beach Bowl win over South Florida, but their departures leave the Hilltoppers with another chance to prove themselves. Brohm welcomes the doubts, hoping that this can be the year that consistency is the word that people use to describe the Hilltoppers’ success. Doughty’s replacement will be blessed with a veteran offensive line as well as weapons on the outside and in the backfield. Senior Forrest Lamp headlines an offensive line that will enter the season with a combined 129 starts. The receiving corps returns yardage leaders Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris. The running back combo of Anthony Wales and D’Andre Ferby will share the offensive workload. Defensively, Brohm returns only four starters but says there’s “more experience than you would think” because of how many players were able to get into games last year and make a difference. Stopping big plays through the air was a major factor in last year’s improvement, and returning starters in safeties Marcus Ward and Branden Leston promise continued growth. Also returning is the team’s leading tackler last season in T.J. McCollum.
Question marks: The obvious one is at quarterback. The competition between South Florida transfer Mike White and Louisville transfer Tyler Ferguson went down to the wire, with White ultimately being named the opening-day starter. Redshirt sophomore Drew Eckels was also in the mix.
Game of the year: Middle Tennessee State was the coaches’ preseason choice to win the C-USA East, with WKU picked second. Those teams collide in Murfreesboro on Oct. 15.
RB Anthony Wales: The Hilltoppers were able to bounce back so well after losing Leon Allen to injury because of Wales. He was a 1,000-yard rusher last season and will be vital to the offense again as the starter.
WR Taywan Taylor: Taylor led the team last year in touchdowns (17) and receiving yards (1467) and will be a consistent target for the new starting quarterback.
LB T.J. McCollum: WKU is losing a lot on defense from last season but McCollum was the team’s leading tackler and his return could go a long way for a defense that will need to avoid a drop-off to stay competitive.
S Branden Leston: Leston was second on the team in tackles (96) last season and has proven he is a solid last line of defense, whether it’s against the pass or run.
2016 College Football Preview
Click on the links below to read other stories from the Herald-Leader’s season preview. Watch for more coming Monday and Tuesday, or pick up the Sunday Herald-Leader and get it all at once.