"It's an exciting time to be a Hilltopper."
That's how first year head coach Jeff Brohm started off WKU football media day inside Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium Saturday morning, just hours before the first of the team's 23 scheduled practices that afternoon.
Besides a new head coach, the third in the past three years, the Tops begin the season in a new conference, moving to Conference USA this summer after decades in the Sun Belt Conference. They finished 8-4 last year, their eighth season in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
"We're excited about joining the new conference," Brohm said, "It'll be a challenge for us and we'll have to earn respect but that's what college football is all about if you want to become the best."
Brohm said the team had a good summer working on strength and conditioning to get in the best shape possible so a lot of players can see game action on both sides of the ball and they can stay fresh. But right now, all the team is thinking about and working towards is the first game of the regular season.
The Tops host reigning MAC champs Bowling Green State August 29, but Brohm said they've actually got preliminary game plans for the season's first four games, something he learned from former WKU head coach and mentor Bobby Petrino.
Petrino left last winter after one season in Bowling Green to return as head coach of the Louisville Cardinals.
"He's a tough act to follow, he's an outstanding coach," Brohm said, but "we're doing things similar to last year," in order to minimize adjustments.
Brohm said a big part of the team's offense will center around running back Leon Allen. "He's been waiting in the wings, waiting his turn and biding his time the last couple of years," Brohm said, "and he probably hasn't been too happy about it." Brohm said Allen has a great combination of strength and speed and they'll look for him to carry the ball 15 to 20 times a game.
But the acknowledged leader of the team is senior quarterback Brandon Doughty. "We think a lot of Brandon," Brohm said, "we think he'll be an outstanding leader." Doughty told WKU Public Radio he accepts the role, being a team captain for two years in a row, and he worked hard during the off season on limiting turnovers and improving his running so he can "make plays with my feet."
And he said the team is starting to come together, but it's an on-going process "As camp goes on and these guys see these new faces around campus, we'll definitely get into a rhythm and bond with each other. I personally think of these guys like my family members, I treat these guys like my brothers," he said, "We get on each other but are the first to pat each other on the back and that's a good thing to have in our locker room."
Brohm agreed and said, as offensive coordinator last season, he didn't really get to know all the players on the team but he's gotten to know all the team members well over the past six months. He feels the players are comfortable with the continuity of coaches from last season and with the same offensive, defensive and special teams schemes from last year. He'll call the plays along with new offensive coordinator Tyson Helton from Cincinnati.
Brohm sees the biggest improvement in the team's corps of receivers especially by bringing in some junior college players and the improvement of last year's freshmen. They'll continue to look to recruit freshmen from around the Commonwealth who can come in and play right away at the college level. "We've had a definite strategy in place for recruiting and we've had success so far," Brohm said, "We'll continue to recruit in a two to three hour radius of Bowling Green" since they staff knows the teams well, the players, their families and coaches. "We're not going to leave a stone unturned."