We’re still a little bit away from the start of fall camp, but probably not as far as you think – early August will be here before you know it.
So, with that said, we’ll try to have something like this once a week in preparation for the 2011 season.
Today, let’s break down the top five players that you might not know much about, but very well could become very familiar with by the time the season’s in full swing.
Demetrius Coley, TE, 6-2, 254 So. (No. 35)
When Tristan Jones went down with an injury early last season, the Hilltoppers appeared to be Ok at the tight end spot because Jack Doyle was still on the roster. But when Doyle got dinged up during the Louisiana-Lafayette game – I remember thinking, ‘they’re in deep ___.’
Fortunately for Willie Taggart and company, my notion was shot down a few minutes later when Coley was on the receiving end of two huge pass plays – one going for a 43-yard touchdown. He finished the day with 74 yards on two grabs, and his performance was overshadowed by the fact that WKU had finally broken its seemingly endless losing streak – but I remember leaving the game wondering ‘who was that guy?’
Coley got major reps for the rest of the season, and got another lion’s share this spring as Doyle was kept out of the majority of contact drills. But he’s most definitely a player. He’s got the size up front to be a productive blocker, he’s quick enough to out-run linebackers and most importantly – he doesn’t drop the football.
WKU will have plenty of tight ends to choose from this season (especially with the addition of Ryan Wallace), with Doyle being the No. 1 man on the list if he’s 100 percent. But look for Coley to make plenty of plays this season – especially with WKU’s receiving corps being so depleted.
Rico Brown, WR, 5-11, 185 r-Fr. (No. 4)
WKU’s receiving corps was already thin enough entering spring practice, and it got even worse off when Willie McNeal fell to a season-ending injury. Marcus Vasquez should be back full-go once fall hits, and he’ll be the likely No. 1 target – but the only true wide receiver that I felt put some separation between himself and the rest of the pack this past spring was Brown.
Some may remember Brown as the lone WKU commit prior to David Elson’s firing midway through the 2009 season. He redshirted during the 2010 campaign, but thanks to some injuries, was able to get a great deal of reps during spring practice.
He’s not extremely big, but he showed to be shifty enough during spring ball and seemed to really have a true feel for the position – in short, he looked like a wide receiver. Not someone who was converted over there at some point.
The Hilltoppers will be looking for answers at this position all season long, and they may find that in more ways than one (anyone say Antonio Andrews?). But if I were a betting man, I’d bet that Brown earns a fair shake to prove what he’s got when WKU opens the season in Nashville against Kentucky.
Tye Golden, ILB, 6-2, 226, Jr. (No. 12)
The biggest question mark entering spring was inside linebacker – no question.
Thomas Majors was the backbone of the defense for the past two seasons, and even when things looked God awful for the Hilltoppers defensively – Majors was usually making plays.
On the first day of spring practice, I walked down to the sidelines and started to scan across the field before my eye landed on Golden. I turned to the person standing next to me and asked ‘is that Tye Golden, or is someone else wearing No. 12?’
Now I’m not taking any cuts on Golden’s athletic build prior to last season – but the Tye Golden I saw on the field this spring looked like a D-1 middle linebacker. More than anyone else on the field. He played like one, too – ending the spring session as the ILB starter on the depth chart.
Now, those spring depth charts don’t mean a whole lot, but Golden looked to be hands down the man for the job. A good fall from Golden and you’ll likely be hearing his name over the Houchens-Smith loudspeakers quite a bit this season when WKU is on the defensive.
Luis Polanco, OL, 6-2, 286 So. (No. 63)
Here’s a guy that came to WKU as a pretty raw prospect with a lot of upside. WKU’s best overall position group last season was its offensive line – so unless you made a big impact early, chances were you weren’t going to out-right steal someone’s spot as the season went along.
But Polanco continued to get better each week in practice – so much so, that the staff was basically forced to play him. So they did. They put a receiver-eligible jersey on him late in the season and stuck him at tight end. He more than held his own.
Polanco most likely translates to an interior lineman, but if he was versatile enough to run-block effectively on the edge from the tight end spot – I’d be willing to bet he’ll do just fun inside at one of the guard positions.
He’s got the makings of a good one – and though you really don’t hear the names of the guys up front too often, Polanco might end up being one you read about sometime down the line on an all-conference ballot.
Jamichael Payne, DT, 6-1, 328 (Not sure on the number just yet)
Here’s a guy that I’ve never actually seen play in person – but I mean, 328-pound defensive tackles generally do Ok.
The without a doubt, unquestioned, uncontested, most eye-glaring thing the WKU football program has been missing since making the move to the FBS level was real D-1 caliber size up front – especially on the defensive line. The Hilltopper strength staff has done a nice job over the past year or so turning a lot of 260-pound guys into 280-pound guys.
But this cat’s pushing 330.
Don’t believe he’s that big? Take a look for yourself: CLICK HERE
That’s what’s known as a run-plugger. And unless he’s completely and utterly lost with the speed at the next level – I’d say the WKU staff has an extremely hard time not getting him on the field early and often.