In keeping with a relatively new tradition on The Hill, WKU Director of Athletics Todd Stewart updated the media on the Hilltopper Football program following another successful NFL Draft weekend which saw a pair of Hilltoppers become the top draft picks in school history while eight others help set a new milestone for WKU players with NFL opportunities.
“It was a tremendous weekend, again, for our football program,” Stewart said. “To think, we had as many players drafted in the top 72 picks of the draft as the entire Big 12 Conference combined. I just think that illustrates how far this program has come and what the ‘new normal’ is (related to the NFL).”
Forrest Lamp and Taywan Taylor become the highest and second-highest draft selections in school history over the weekend, breaking Joseph Jefferson’s 2002 mark of No. 74 when they were selected No. 38 and No. 72 overall, respectively.
Following the draft, eight more Hilltoppers received the call to pursue their NFL future as either undrafted free agents or rookie mini-camp invitees. Keith Brown, Omarius Bryant, Nick Dawson-Brents, Nolan Dowling, Tyler Ferguson, Max Halpin, Anthony Wales and Darrell Williams, Jr., combined with the draft picks to put a total of 10 Hilltoppers in NFL camps over the next two weekends, breaking last year’s high-water mark of eight.
With 10 players heading to camps and six other Hilltoppers already on rosters, those 16 combine to cover 12 NFL cities which previously had minimal ties, if any, to Western Kentucky University, a fact Stewart pointed out on Wednesday.
“I really believe the success of our football program, and what it has achieved over the past five years, has enhanced our entire university and Bowling Green, Kentucky,” Stewart added. “We’ve had incredible television exposure which shines a favorable light on the University. (The players are taking the Western Kentucky brand) to 12 cities across this country because of our football program.”
According to a recent study done by CaptureHigherEd.com, during WKU’s appearance in the 2016 Boca Raton Bowl, a game WKU won 51-31, “the Hilltoppers also drove thousands of visitors to admissions-related pages on their website. In the middle of the game, two-and-a-half times as many people visited those sites compared to before the game.”
WKU’s scheduling over the recent growth of the football program has also contributed to success on draft weekend. Throughout the draft process, NFL Network’s top analyst Mike Mayock repeatedly referenced Lamp’s performance against then-No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa as “the best tape I’ve seen from an offensive lineman in five years.” Stewart reiterated on Thursday that not only scheduling high caliber opponents, but performing well against those opponents was an intentional move that would continue going forward.
“We want to play the types of games that give our players a chance to succeed, but also to be noticed,” Stewart said. “I think when you play an LSU or an Alabama or an SEC or Big Ten team, you’ll have a lot more eyeballs on you. Certainly with the Alabama game this year and in 2012 when we played them, the way Forrest Lamp played this year shined a light on him that no other game could have done.”
The 2017 season is fast approaching under first-year head coach Mike Sanford, set for Sept. 2 against Eastern Kentucky, and while the staff has changed, Stewart’s expectation of the program has not.
“I’ve always said I like the challenges that come with winning more than the challenges that come with losing, and each year we’ve achieved more and more,” Stewart added. “What I really like our staff that we have right now – there are still some places we haven’t been yet – there are some people on this staff, including our head coach Mike Sanford, who have been to the places we haven’t been yet. They have high goals and have embraced where our program is right now, and our players have embraced that which led to an exciting spring.”
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Associate Athletic Director, Communications