Saturday, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers take on their long-time rival, the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee. The two teams, roughly 100 miles apart, have been battling on the football field since 1914. WKU has played some fantastic games against the Blue Raiders, and I got the chance to catch up with some former WKU players about their experiences at Western Kentucky and with the Middle Tennessee rivalry.
What was it like to play at Western?
Former WKU DE Jared Clendenin ('07-11): Playing at Western was a great experience for me. Not winning many games early on in my career taught me to deal with adversity. The success we had towards the latter years of my career taught me to stay humble and to continue to work hard so that we could continue to enjoy the feeling of winning
Former WKU DT Jamarcus Allen ('08-12): Me being a "Floridian" playing at WKU feels like home. Fans cheering , extended family (your teammates) going to war with you and is ready for anything that comes their way. Playing at WKU was a privilege!! Something that no player should/would not take for granted.
Former WKU Kicker Casey Tinius ('07-11): Playing at WKU was great because I got to play for a team that I grew up watching every Saturday. Playing for my hometown team really meant a lot to me and I'm glad that I got to experience it with some guys that will be some of my best friends for the rest of my life.
WKU Athletics Hall of Fame 2013 Inductee (Football) James Edwards ('84-'87): I did not know what to expect from WKU. I was from Florida and to be truthful I never heard of the University (WKU) Until Coach (Dave) Roberts contacted me and stated that he was the new football coach at WKU. When I arrived at Western and was exposed to all of Western Tradition, I was hooked.
Former WKU Safety and Graduate Assistant Ryan Beard: Playing football at WKU was a great experience. Being a part of the first D1 signing class and coming right into the brand new facilities was something very special. From start to finish my time at WKU was top notch.
Former WKU OG Wes Jeffries ('07-11): Playing at Western Kentucky was a great experience in my life. I grew up in Bowling Green, KY and always went to watch the games growing up. During my time there from 2007 till 2011 we were going through a transition period to D-1 and it was tough. We played some major teams such as Alabama, LSU, Tenn., Virginia Tech, Nebraska and others, but during that time we were gain confidence and becoming a team. It was a awesome time for my family and friends to come to the games and watch me since I am from Bowling Green. Even though we were going through a rough transition we made the best of it. My first start was against Virginia Tech my Red shirt freshman year and I was nervous. But we fought them tough and we hung with them to only lose by a couple of points. At that point even tho the whole team was young and inexperienced we knew we had something speical happening. I would say that I had a successful career on the Hill and it was the best time of my life. I met so many friends there and still stay in touch with them. It was a honor to be apart of all the teams from 2007-2011.
The program grew tremendously during your playing careers and has grown even more since then, what has it been like to reflect on your time at WKU and see where the football program is now?
Former WKU DE Jared Clendenin ('07-11): It is amazing to see how much the program has grown and developed since my playing years have ended. The Tops are on a steady incline and I am proud to call my self a former player.
Former WKU DT Jamarcus Allen ('08-12): I played in the era of WKU Football history (where the football program) was the lowest of the 120 (FBS). In 2008 we went 2-10. In 2009 we went 0-12. In 2010 we went 2-10. In 2011 we went 7-5 (got gypped out of a bowl game). In 2012 we went 7-5 ( We finally made it to the first bowl game in WKU history). The player that are being evolved at WKU are becoming spectacular athletes. I'm beyond excited to see what the TOPS are going to do in OUR new conference. I see a conference championship coming soon.
Former WKU Kicker Casey Tinius ('07-11): We had a few really rough years while I played for the Tops. We went through a stretch where we won 4 games in 3 years, including a 26 game losing streak that spanned 3 seasons. It's great to see where the program is today and knowing that the guys I played with helped get the program headed in the right direction. It makes all the heartache we went through worth it when I get to see some of my former teammates succeed at such a high level.
WKU Athletics Hall of Fame 2013 Inductee (Football) James Edwards ('84-'87): It's amazing when I come back to "the HILL" to watch a game. Our coach at the time always talked about the future of WKU Football and almost everything he talked about from 1984 through 1989 has happened (at WKU).
Former WKU Safety and Graduate Assistant Ryan Beard: WKU made tremendous strides during my time there as a player and a coach. We had some growing pains my first few years, but have since then developed into a very respected football program on the D1 level. I am very proud to tell people that I earned my undergraduate and Masters degree from Western Kentucky University.
Former WKU OG Wes Jeffries ('07-11): There is so much excitement around WKU right now for this season and there should be. As I look back on my playing days I can now tell that we were building something great to come. When I was playing, yes I wanted to win, but everyone who was on the team during that transitioning period have something to be proud of because we too huge steps for the program and the teams since then have just made the program even better and national known. i feel like the 2007 through the 2011 teams have something really to be proud of because at one time we went through a 26 game losing streak and it was tough. Some days you didn't feel like going but everyone was out there for practice ready to get better. After my senior year, that's when I really appreciated what we did there because our records were 2-10, 0-12, 2-10,7-5. My last year there is when I felt like we finally accomplished something, making the turn around and finishing 7-5.
If it wasn't for the coaches and coaching staffs from Coach Elson and Coach Taggert this program would not be where it is today. We've had some great players come thought the program from Bobby Rainy, Jack Doyle, Greg Ryan, Q Smith, and Antonio Andrews. Those guys were great players and leaders for us but I have to give all the credit to all the players from those years who help contribute WKU football wouldn't be the same. As I look back, I wouldn't trade anything in the world for my experience and memories for playing at WKU and I would do it all over again the same way!
Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee continue their historic rivalry on Saturday after taking a year off. What was it like to be apart of that rivalry, for current players that may not have had that experience yet?
Former WKU DE Jared Clendenin ('07-11): The Middle Tennessee game was always one that I would take note of on the schedule. No matter what each teams record was, we would both show up ready to play. They hated us and we hated them. It's hard to explain but it seemed like every time we played each other we would try to hit them harder than we hit other teams. It could be because they are only a short bus ride away. This game is no doubt a rivalry and will remain so. Players that have not played in this game should prepare for this one like it is the conference championship game.
Former WKU DT Jamarcus Allen ('08-12): WKU vs. MTSU is the game that you circle on your calendar....(WKU and MTSU have) Pure dislike for one another. The last time WKU and MTSU played each other, MTSU escaped "the Hill" with the "W". I challenge the senior class to be victorious on Saturday and regain the bragging rights. Good luck to the TOPS! Wish I was there suiting up on Saturday!
Former WKU Kicker Casey Tinius ('07-11): WKU/MTSU is a great rivalry. Beating MTSU in overtime my senior year on a Bobby Rainey touchdown was one of my favorite memories from my time at WKU. The games are always extremely intense because the schools just flat out don't like each other. I'm looking forward to watching the game Saturday and seeing if the Tops can get some revenge after they came back and beat us in Bowling Green last time around.
WKU Athletics Hall of Fame 2013 Inductee (Football) James Edwards ('84-'87): The MTSU game was always one of the most physical games that we played each year. It was also different because MTSU had artificial turf that was very different for me because I always played on grass. They had a legendary Coach in "Boots Donnelly" and his kids always were very well prepared.
Former WKU Safety and Graduate Assistant Ryan Beard: The atmosphere will be exciting on Saturday. There is great tradition between the two schools and it will be a a big time football game. I can assure you that both teams will be prepared for a tough/physical football game.
Former WKU OG Wes Jeffries ('07-11): The rivalry between WKU and MTSU is something special. We don't like them, and they don't like us, it's going to be a dog fight when ever we play. They got the best of us 3 out of the 4 years I was playing, but it was one of the best feelings when we beat them my senior year at their home in a 3 over time game. I was disappointed when I heard they were going to Conference USA and then the news came out that WKU was going, which instantly I was excited because I knew we could still continue the rivalry. This game is always the game you mark on your schedule because you really want to make sure you prepare just a little hard so you can make the past alumni proud.
What does Western Kentucky need to do to beat Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro (September 9th, 7PM ET)? See my game preview!