Tag Archives: Matt Pelesasa

Thursday football quick hits: Pelesasa, Rainey sit with minor injuries

By Zach Greenwell

It was a fairly light news day at Western’s football practice Thursday morning.

Junior quarterback Matt Pelesasa was once again held out with what’s being called a tired throwing arm. Sophomore Kawaun Jakes and freshman Brandon Doughty again took all of the snaps under center with Pelesasa sidelined, but Head Coach Willie Taggart said Pelesasa would be back for this afternoon’s second practice.

Junior running back Bobby Rainey was also out of pads – and the infamous yellow jersey – and was seen icing his left shoulder.

Taggart said that Rainey landed awkwardly on the shoulder during a drill, but that holding him out was just precautionary.

“He sprained his shoulder in the summer, and he went to catch a ball and just landed on it,” Taggart said. “He’ll be fine though.”

We’ve seen similar situations from Taggart a lot this fall with tackle Wes Jeffries, kicker Casey Tinius and of course, Pelesasa. It’s pretty clear that when a proven playmaker goes down with a minor injury, this staff would prefer to give him a few days rest over risking something more serious.

Doughty looks strong

We didn’t get to see much 11-on-11 today, but in the few drives we did see, I was really impressed by Doughty.

The true freshman’s mid-range to deep ball looked the best it has, hooking up with tight end Tristan Jones and receivers Quinterrance Cooper and Blake Ayers for receptions of 15 yards or more.

Although I don’t think these last couple days are enough to pull Doughty back into the race with Pelesasa and Jakes, it does make it seem like the future could be bright for him.

Of course, with the offense having such big success, that means that the defense didn’t have its best day.

Taggart said it’s been two straight days where the offense has decisively gotten the better of the D, and he said the latter needs to learn when to say “enough is enough.”

“We were a lot better offensively today than we were defensively,” Taggart said. “But the thing I did like about the defense was that we were running to the ball. It just wasn’t as much energy as there has been.

“The guys feed off each other. When they’re fired up, it’s hard to move the ball on them. When they’re just out there and quiet, it comes really easy for the offense.”

Taggart goes ‘big-time’

On a lighter note, Taggart elaborated on his dinner last night at the governor’s mansion with Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and his wife.

Taggart was joined by Western Director of Athletics Ross Bjork and President Gary Ransdell.

“I had all the questions I could,” Taggart said. “It’s not like I get to talk to the governor every day. I said I wanted to make sure I got it all out while I was there.

“I felt big-time. I felt like I arrived a little bit there. I walked out with my chest up and a little pep in my step after that.”

Taggart was asked what he had to eat at the dinner and excitedly answered steak and potatoes.

“We were keeping it country,” Taggart said. “Keeping it country in the governor’s mansion.”


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Wednesday football practice quick hits

By Zach Greenwell

Sorry I’m a little late today. The Toppers finished practice Wednesday right around noon, but I hung around after to chat with receivers coach Terry Obee.

I talked to Obee about the potential of freshman Willie McNeal, and how he can be an explosive piece of Western’s offense. Look for more on McNeal’s role this season at wkuherald.com later today.

Pelesasa rests

The biggest news of Wednesday’s practice was that junior quarterback Matt Pelesasa sat out for nearly all drills because of a sore throwing arm, according to Head Coach Willie Taggart.

I only saw Pelesasa take one rep during the time I was at practice, which was a ball greatly overthrown to Bobby Rainey.

In Pelesasa’s absence, I’d say sophomore Kawaun Jakes took about 70 percent of the snaps, while freshman Brandon Doughty got the rest.

It was a good day for both quarterbacks, as Western worked on attacking a nickel defense with short, quick passes.

I’ll have more quarterback updates in a notebook on the Herald’s Web site today.

A few other notes from today’s practice:

— Junior tackle Wes Jeffries was in a sling at practice Wednesday, but Taggart said that it was a minor arm injury that he has been nursing all camp. We’ll keep an eye on that situation, because Jeffries is simply a lineman that the Toppers can’t afford to lose.

— Senior linebacker Chris Bullard was back on the field with the first-team defense today. Bullard had been sidelined for the first week of camp after having minor knee surgery this summer.

— With kicker/punter Casey Tinius still out with a groin injury, freshman Hendrix Brakefield looked as impressive to me as he has all camp.

Brakefield rattled off about five or six straight solid punts at one point, showing that potential that Taggart has mentioned before.

Freshman kicker Monte Merrick, filling in for Tinius, also made the first field goal I can recall seeing him make so far, a chip shot from about 21 yards.

— A couple guys that impressed me today: receiver Jamarielle Brown and running back Dalton Cissell.

I know we’ve tooted Cissell’s horn on a few occasions to this point, but the freshman has frankly looked better than any RB in camp not named Bobby Rainey. Cissell’s biggest play of the day was a strong run of about 25 yards, taking down numerous tacklers along the way.

Again, look for a story on Willie McNeal and a full notebook on the day’s action at wkuherald.com in a little bit.

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Tuesday football practice quick hits

By Zach Greenwell

Finally, they speak.

Western’s three quarterbacks became available to the media for the first time after Tuesday morning’s practice, and the standard line from all of them was that it’s more about improving right now than winning the starting job.

Head Coach Willie Taggart reiterated today that junior Matt Pelesasa and sophomore Kawaun Jakes have distanced themselves from true freshman Brandon Doughty, although Taggart hesitated to say that Doughty was out of the race altogether.

“Every year, as long as I’m head coach, we’re going to have some competition at that position,” Taggart said. “We need it. We need the best out of those guys all the time.

“Kawaun had a really good day today, but again, Matt made some good plays. Both those guys are coming. I’m happy with where they’re at, but they’ve got to continue working to separate themselves.”

Both Pelesasa and Jakes made some big plays Tuesday, with quite a bit of help from their receivers.

It was honestly one of the best days I’ve seen from the Toppers’ receiving corps, as everyone made both the routine and spectacular catch.

Pelesasa’s biggest score was on a pass to junior running back Bobby Rainey, who soared up to catch a ball well over his head in the end zone.

Jakes answered with an uncharacteristic long ball, a 65-yard bomb to senior Quinterrance Cooper for a touchdown.

Receivers Dexter Haynes and Willie McNeal also had some solid receptions.

If Pelesasa had any sort of lead over Jakes early in camp, I think it’s safe to say that Jakes has brought that battle back to neck-and-neck.

I’ll have a whole lot more on the quarterback situation, including videos of each of the candidates, at wkuherald.com later today.

Getting their kicks

We learned today that junior kicker/punter Casey Tinius has been suffering from a strained groin over the last few days.

In his absence, freshmen punters Hendrix Brakefield and Kevin Carrillo and freshman kicker Monte Merrick have handled the special teams duties.

Western will definitely need the services of Tinius, however, because although each of his replacements have shown flashes of brilliance, not every kick or punt has been gold.

Merrick’s only field goal try of the day was from about 38 yards, and it came up about five yards short and to the right.

“We’ve got to have a kicker,” Taggart said. “That kicker’s got to be great. We’re going to make sure (Tinius) is healthy, and make sure he’s ready to roll for us, because we’re going to need some field goals.”

Whoever wins the punting job will have to replace standout Jeremy Moore, who was a bright spot in last year’s 0-12 season.

Brakefield, a Nashville, Tenn., native, is listed as the starting punter on Western’s fall depth chart.

“There’s competition there too,” Taggart said. “We need someone to step up and do that part for our team. We look for those guys to be great at doing that.

“Some of those guys, like Brakefield, will kick the ball 60 yards, and then he’ll come back and kick it 20. We need some consistency, because he can do it.”

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Monday football practice quick hits

By Zach Greenwell

Not a whole lot of news to report from Western’s football practice today, although we’re starting to see a lot more of quarterbacks Matt Pelesasa and Kawuan Jakes volleying for the starting job.

Jakes has really looked much better over the last couple days, and I’d say today was probably the best he’s looked so far in camp.

Jakes scored on a scramble of about 30 yards as soon as I arrived at Houchens-Smith Stadium, and he was able to make several solid short passes — basically chipping his way down the field.

Head Coach Willie Taggart said that Pelesasa didn’t have his best practice last night, and to be honest, I feel like Jakes has tightened that race considerably over the past couple days.

We’ll gain more perspective into that situation tomorrow when the quarterbacks become available for interviews for the first time after Tuesday’s practice.

A few other notes:

— Not only has the entire offensive line boycotted interviews until the Toppers win a game, but they’ve gotten their coach involved too. Offensive line coach Walt Wells was geared up to talk to me for a few minutes one-on-one today, until he was urged not to do so by his players.

I’ll have a feature on the veteran offensive line and their silence in a little bit, with some interesting quotes from Taggart and tight end Jack Doyle — assuming the O-line doesn’t find  a way to get the story off the Web.

— Junior running back Bobby Rainey has been wearing a yellow jersey in practice, and Taggart explained today that the jersey signifies that Rainey is not to be touched during drills.

Taggart said his first year at Stanford, when his running back corps went through six starters because of injury, persuaded him to protect Rainey, one of his biggest playmakers. Look for more on that in a notebook in a while.

— A few guys that stood out to me in practice today — running back Keyshawn Simpson, receiver Marcus Vasquez and defensive back Tyree Robinson.

Robinson was especially impressive, breaking up a pass in the end zone and intercepting another. If there was any position where I would expect some freshmen to break through, I’d imagine it would be in the inexperienced secondary.

Check wkuherald.com later tonight for full coverage of today’s practice.

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Sunday football practice quick hits

By Zach Greenwell

I just got in from Western’s first practice of the day. Today marks the Toppers’ first two-a-day session, as they will head back out to the field tonight for a second practice from 6:45-9:15 p.m.

Head Coach Willie Taggart called this morning’s practice the best of fall camp so far, and it was certainly evident that the team was fired up.

The first thing the media saw when we arrived was freshman fullback Nick Baisch catching a rollout pass from sophomore QB Kawaun Jakes for a 2-yard touchdown. The offense celebrated by singing the fight song, which Taggart said is simply more of the attempt to add excitement when the Toppers succeed.

The early practice was much more run-heavy with play-action passes sprinkled in. We saw a lot of unusual suspects — Baisch, fullback Cy Schroeder and junior Tristan Jones in a two-tight-end set — catching balls, but I’ll have more on the complexity of the West Coast offense from Taggart in a little bit.

A few other thoughts from today’s practice:

— With Casey Tinius out the last two days for undisclosed reasons, punters Hendrix Brakefield and Kevin Carrillo took all of the snaps during special teams. Each had a few impressive punts, but there were also several that left something to be desired, to say the least.

Freshman kicker Monte Merrick missed his lone field goal try, but he made an extra point attempt after a touchdown drive led by junior QB Matt Pelesasa.

–Junior running back Bobby Rainey and freshmen receivers Willie McNeal and Donald Campbell were the three players taking punt returns during the drills.

–Freshman running back Dalton Cissell, a walk-on, became the human highlight reel at the end of practice, breaking off a run of about 12 yards up the middle while shedding tackles, before punching it in from 3 yards out to score with Pelesasa under center. Look for more on Cissell from Taggart later today.

-Kawaun Jakes led the first team today during the final 11-on-11 drills, while Pelesasa followed with the second group. Freshman QB Brandon Doughty was not able to take any reps while the media was in attendance, but Taggart said that nothing could be read into the order in which all three lined up.

We also learned that the quarterback trio may become available to media for the first time within the next few days, so be looking for that.

-The only new injury update to pass along is that junior running back Avery Hibbitt has suffered a concussion, according to Taggart. There were several other players not in uniform today, but Taggart said it was just the usual wear-and-tear, and that the team has been extremely fortunate with injuries thus far.

Look for a full notebook and videos later, as well as a feature on the Toppers’ secondary — more specifically junior Derrius Brooks, who converted from receiver to cornerback this offseason — on the Herald’s Web site.

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FOOTBALL: Fresh faces shine in Western’s Spring Game

Sophomore receiver Marcus Vasquez catches a pass over sophomore defensive back Jamal Forrest during the third quarter of Western's Spring Game at Houchens-Smith Stadium on April 17. The White team went on to defeat the Red team, 47-16. ARMANDO L. SANCHEZ/HERALD

Saturday’s annual spring game brought on several firsts for the Western football team.

There was a new coach and almost an entirely new staff, a new offense, and even a new defense.

And after a seesaw battle between the offense and the defense all spring, Head Coach Willie Taggart said he just wanted to see one team win in Saturday’s game – and win big.

He got his wish as the White team rolled 47-16 thanks to fresh faces junior quarterback Matt Pelesasa and redshirt freshman wide receiver Willie McNeal.

“It felt great,” Taggart said. “We had a nice group of fans out here and everyone was happy. But I didn’t want the game to be close. I didn’t care what side it was. I just wanted to win big.”

Taggart said Pelesasa will go in to the summer as Western’s No. 1 quarterback, and he showed why on Saturday night.

He completed eight passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. He even showed off his running abilities, carrying the ball nine times for 59 yards and a touchdown.

But Pelesasa credited McNeal and his offensive line for his success in what was his first start in a game as a Topper.

McNeal, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, ran the ball three times for 83 yards and a touchdown — also adding a 30-yard catch to his statistics.

“He can break a game wide open with any sort of play,” Pelesasa said of McNeal. “It helps tremendously to have a guy like him on our offense. He can break a wide open.”

McNeal quickly credited the offensive line as well for his success, saying they should have been awarded the MVP award instead of him.

It wasn’t just McNeal who was making plays, though. Junior wide receiver Derrius Brooks caught a 66-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Tyler Bruce in the second quarter and Pelesasa hooked up with sophomore wide receiver Marcus Vasquez for a 50-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.

Although the score was somewhat lopsided, Taggart said he actually liked what he saw from both teams.

Senior linebacker Thomas Majors of the Red team led both teams in tackles with 11, while sophomore linebacker Josh Carter led the White team with six.

Although Western was only allowed fifteen practices, Taggart said he saw his team improve in everything he wanted them to improve on – which was mostly fundamentals. But now with spring practice in the books, Taggart said the team and coaches are looking toward fall to finish up on their improvements.

“I think we as a coaching staff can make a big improvement because we are still getting used to each other,” he said. “We can use this offseason to shore up things and teach them exactly how we want it.”

Taggart said the players need to use the offseason to get bigger, faster, and stronger.

“I want them to hit the weight room with enthusiasm unknown to mankind,” he said. “I want them studying film too. I want them knowing this offense and defense better than us, because come summertime, we’re not going to be with them. The more work they can get done together, the more comfortable they’ll be.”

Cole Claybourn

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FOOTBALL: Pelesasa retains lead in QB race

There’s not a lot to say about Thursday morning’s practice.

The Toppers worked until just past 10:30 a.m., junior quarterback Matt Pelesasa took all the scrimmage reps under center and redshirt freshman Kawaun Jakes watched — off his crutches, but now wearing a brace around his injured ankle.

Head Coach Willie Taggart said he doesn’t expect Jakes to be back for Western’s first scrimmage this Saturday, which is open to the public and begins at 9:10 a.m.

Pelesasa wasn’t as impressive Thursday as he was Tuesday, but where his passes sometimes lacked in accuracy, he covered with firepower. Pelesasa threw an interception and had it returned by the defense for a touchdown, and he added in a few more passes that were batted down. With a 6-1 quarterback, that will happen.

But Pelesasa also threw a few balls that were grazed by defenders’ hands yet still made it through to a receiver. He’s mobile and obviously gets zip on the ball. Oh, and he doesn’t play pickup basketball. Taggart once again brought up that he can’t worry about the players that can’t help him (Jakes), and will only concentrate on the ones that are available (Pelesasa).

Not much mention was made of quarterback Courtney Dalcourt, who continues to rest an injured knee, and Tyler Bruce, who leaves early on Tuesdays and Thursdays for class.

Jonathan Lintner

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