UK Football

Big Red's Black aims to top Blue

His poise and calm demeanor will have K.J. Black playing quarterback for Western Kentucky when the Hilltoppers visit Kentucky on Saturday night.

"He's our starter for a reason. He gives us our best chance to win," Western Coach David Elson said.

"One of K.J.'s strengths is his poise in high-pressure situations. This game certainly will be loud with the hype and all. That seems to be when he's at his best."

Black, a sophomore from Louisville, can hardly wait for Western's first game against Kentucky.

"A lot of us growing up across the state have watched Kentucky for years," Black said. "This is an opportunity for us to make history. I hope we get off on the right foot."

The Wildcats, Black recalled, showed interest during his senior year at Fern Creek High School.

"They got who they wanted," he said. "I think they took (Will) Fidler and (Mike) Hartline in my year."

Louisville offered a partial scholarship if he would move to receiver.

"I'd played quarterback since I was 9," Black said, "and I felt comfortable. It was natural for me to want to keep playing it."

More than a dozen schools in what is now the Football Championship Subdivision offered scholarships. He chose Western, which voted to move to the Football Bowl Subdivision during his redshirt season of 2006.

"That was a big selling point to me," Black said. "I could play two years of I-A football." (The Toppers are in their final transition year and will be eligible for the Sun Belt Conference title and a bowl in 2009.)

Last season, Black passed for 1,007 yards and eight touchdowns. He also ran for 324 yards and averaged 111 yards of total offense as David Wolke's backup. The 6-foot-4 Black was named the starter in fall camp.

Black missed Western's last two games with a separated shoulder, but Elson returned him to his starting role following WKU's 50-9 victory over Murray State last week.

Black knows he and the Hilltoppers (2-2) will be challenged by Kentucky's defense.

"They are real physical and real aggressive on their pass rush," Black said of the Wildcats. "A strong front seven is the strength of their defense. Their 'D' line is top notch. They have a very experienced defense, and they play fast.

"We'll have to play with that kind of speed to compete with them."

So far, the Hilltoppers' offense has been insufficient in losses at Indiana (282 total yards) and Alabama (158). Western moved the ball better in victories against Eastern Kentucky (382) and Murray State (361).

"We're better than the stats say we are," Black said. "We're waiting for a chance to get out of the gate fast, but we've been held back. We showed some firepower against Murray last week. I hope we continue that."

There is plenty of incentive for the Hilltoppers.

"I've said all along," Elson pointed out, "that for us to continue to grow as a program, we've got to beat somebody we're not supposed to beat. We've got an opportunity to do that this week."

Can the Toppers manage an upset despite being 211/2-point underdogs against the 3-0 Wildcats?

"I feel we'll surprise a lot of people with how we play Saturday," Black said. "A lot of guys on the roster are from Kentucky, and we want to show we can play."