As the losing has piled up, it might be hard to find motivation to keep going.
This week, WKU has plenty of inspiration, from homecoming, to being back at home, to playing two tough, close games the past two years against Troy. But the biggest piece of inspiration might come from one of the most respected members of the team.
It hasn't been easy for senior wide receiver Jake Gaebler this season. Aside from his team underperforming in his final season as a Topper, Gaebler missed two games, Central Arkansas and Navy, with a pulled hamstring.
But Gaebler has come alive the past two games, with 15 catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Heading into this weekend, with 148 career catches, he's two catches short of breaking the school record for career receptions record held by Curtis Hamilton.
"To be able to break it in front of a home crowd and on homecoming, I have a lot of family coming in for the game and it'll definitely make it a little more special," Gaebler said. "If we could get a win, that would definitely make it that much more so, hopefully we can get a win."
In a season lacking in feel-good stories, there's few more deserving than Gaebler. Always the warrior, he's tried his best to keep his teammates up through the bad times.
"I've always thought he was dead on with what he's saying and where he's coming from," coach David Elson said. "You know the guys respect him. I've been very proud of the way he's stepped up and led throughout."
During practice, Gaebler is consistently one of the biggest clowns on the field. As the quarterbacks step up to take aim at throwing the ball in a trash can, Gaebler jumps in. He wants to throw too.
He's also constantly razzing teammates or playing jokes and tricks on teammates, coaches, trainers and anyone else around him. It's all in good fun, but it's part of what's helped keep the team loose through the struggles of the season.
"He's had a great attitude," junior wide receiver Seth Tamme said. "It's his senior year and he wants to go out winning. Things have happened where we unfortunately haven't had the best of luck on some things. But he's stayed positive and he wants to win more than anyone. He talks about it all the time. You just watch the film and he's always playing hard and you can see that he just wants to win more than anything."
Gaebler also knows when to be serious. He's been one of the outspoken leaders of the team, who's addressed his teammates on staying together and getting things back on track.
"The seniors, we talked to them before the last game," Gaebler said. "We've kinda been taking turns trying to motivate them, share a part of our story and our past here and what we've put in and try to use that as some motivation and tell them how much it means to us and that kind of thing. As seniors, we've just been trying to motivate them and just let them know how much it means to us."
Gaebler has backed it up. He's played through pain more than he'll let on. His teammates saw him grimace in the practices and few games that he was recovering from injury.
On a youthful team, he's also been key in helping get his young offense in gear, behind redshirt freshman quarterback Kawaun Jakes.
"Jake, he has the experience giving us motivational speeches," Jakes said. "He's just that leader on the field, also. He's got the total package.
"He's meant a lot. He gets on the field and makes plays. He comes in and gets touchdowns, big catches, big plays. He's just a player."
Against the top team in the Sun Belt Conference, the Toppers have a few things going against them. But they've also got the heart and fight of a player on the brink of a top spot in the school record book.
"Our guys, we've got a lot of character on this football team and guys are continuing to fight," Gaebler said. "You can tell in the weight room and meetings, out here in practice, guys are still flying around and having fun and are passionate about the game. I don't sense anyone hanging their heads or anything like that. We're continuing to work and fight. Eventually, things will click for us, but until then we're just gonna continue to work hard."
Click Here for Elson's full audio after today's practice: COACH DAVID ELSON 11.3 POST PRACTICE
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