Smith “honored” to have starting quarterback role
After so many years of riding the bench, waiting for his opportunity, Brandon Smith was named the starting quarterback for Western’s football team this fall. Smith, a redshirt senior out of Danville, saw action in four games last season, completing 12-of-25 passes for 47 yards.
“It’s an honor to get that starting job,” Smith said. “But now I kind of see it as the real job starts, and the real job is to get the offense going and to meet our team goals this year.”
Smith has seen the ups and downs of Western’s transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), and said he’s ready to accomplish something more than just being there in 2009.
“I waited a long time to get this opportunity, but you know, just getting the opportunity isn’t enough. I’d like to do something with it,” Smith said. “It’s only going to be a success if we meet our goals.”
Western using low rankings as motivation
It’s no secret: The critics haven’t been kind to Western this preseason. The New York Times and Sports Illustrated ranked the Toppers 120th among the 120 FBS teams entering this season, a year after Sports Illustrated left them off the list completely.
Elson noticed his team’s absence from the list last season. Now, entering his 14th season of coaching at Western, he’s telling players that respect has to be earned.
“I told our guys, and I said this even last year, but nobody’s going to hand us anything,” Elson said. “Nothing in this world is given to you. You have to earn it. There’s only one thing you can do about it, and that is to go out and prepare to be as successful as you can on Saturdays and beat people you’re not supposed to beat.”
The low ranking isn’t lowering spirits in camp, but rather giving the players something to work towards.
“You see it, you notice it, and of course we use it as motivation,” Smith said. “I know me personally, I think about it a lot when I’m out there working. A lot of people are basically counting us out.”
Under new coaches, players find system familiar
Head coach David Elson introduced three new coordinators to the team over the spring – Mike Dietzel on defense, Walt Wells with the offense and Stu Holt, who now works with the special teams.
Each coach was already a member of the Toppers’ staff (with Dietzel moving to defensive coordinator for the second time), and players said they have found the transition to be easy so far.
“Nothing much has changed from coach Elson being our coordinator to coach Dietzel,” sophomore defensive lineman Jared Clendenin said. “They’ve got the same core values for the defense, and that’s to go out and play hard every time and fly hard to the ball.”
Dietzel said he hoped the players’ familiarity with the coordinators will lead to good things, adding that even though he didn’t have a defensive position while working with special teams, he was always a part of the mix when Elson was in charge.
“I’ve been on the defense the entire time I’ve been here,” Dietzel said. “From the standpoint of that, the players are used to me being a part of the meetings and a part of the defensive strategy.”
Having a new offensive coordinator and quarterback in the same year can often be confusing, but Smith said he’s not worried.
Under Wells’ system, Smith said changes have been kept at a minimum, and the newly appointed coach is rather adding on to what the offense already knew.
“Coach Wells made it pretty simple for us,” Smith said. “A lot of the terminology has stayed the same. A lot of the plays from the past we’ve kept in, but we’ve added a few new wrinkles here and there to make it an overall balanced offense.”
Western looking to finish close games with a win in 2009
A story from both the 2007 and 2008 transition seasons was how close Western came to knocking off so many opponents. Close losses to Troy and North Texas two seasons ago lingered into 2008, where Western was a drive away from knocking off Florida Atlantic and a turnover from a win against North Texas.
Nobody knows the ins and outs of those tight games better than Elson, who reviewed game tape from some of his latest barn burners and came away hopeful for this season.
“You can see with a little something here, a little something there, whether it be schematically, whether it be the ball bouncing your way, a call here or there, we’ve been extremely close,” Elson said. “So that’s got to give you some optimism as you go into it.”
Jeremy Moore, Western’s senior punter, was on line with Elson.
“We’ve been in almost every single game we’ve played in,” Moore said. “If we can find a way this year to finish games better, to execute in the fourth quarter when it’s tied and we’re up by a touchdown, down by a touchdown, a lot of those games can go the other way.”
The Toppers have more reward to win the close ones in 2009. Now an official member of the Sun Belt conference, Western’s bowl eligibility is on the line with every win and loss.
Crennel denoted as Distinguished Alumni
As announced on Thursday, former Western football walk-on and eventual standout Romeo Crennel will be inducted into the 2009 class of Western Kentucky University Hall of Distinguished Alumni.
Crennnel was a four-year starter for the Toppers, playing from 1966-69. After serving as a graduate assistant for Western, Crennel went on to be an assistant coach in the NFL for 24 seasons and was head coach of the Cleveland Browns for four seasons.
Throughout his career, Crennel won five Super Bowl rings.