When asked what is the most important position on the football field, many people will say the quarterback. The quarterback is a leader on and off the field and usually takes the blunt of the criticism on the offensive side of the ball.
When it comes to the quarterback position for WKU, the team will put the ball in the hands of junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes, who will look to guide the offense for his second full season.
Last season was a tough one for Jakes as he faced harsh criticism after completing just over fifty-one percent of his passes and throwing for just under 1700 yards. Despite these numbers, Jakes showed flashes of brilliance last season, including a spectacular week seven performance in a win over Louisiana-Lafayette where he completed over eighty percent of his passes for 262 yards while rushing for two scores.
As the 2011 season approaches, Jakes has stepped up his game and put in the work to make this year one for the ages.
One way Jakes looks to improve his game will not be seen on game day but plays an important part in the Hilltoppers' practices: the helmet cam.
"It helps because I can actually see the fronts," Jakes said. "I can see where the linebackers are at, and it just helps to put people in places."
Jakes also looks to improve his game with the guidance of former Tops' quarterback and current head football coach Willie Taggart.
"[He's helped] tremendously," Taggart said. "He can just tell me things: how things went, how things use to be, how things are. He's a good role model."
Taggart speaks just as highly of his quarterback. At last Thursday's media day Taggart had many great things to say about his quarterback.
"Kawaun is growing up," Taggart said. "I understood he wasn't going to get our offense in one year. I understood we were running our offense with a spread personnel, but Kawaun always had the tools running the ball and throwing, and that wasn't a concern for me. The concern was doing the little things it takes to be a quarterback on the field and off the field. He's starting to understand that now."
Along with Taggart first year offensive coordinator Zach Azzanni also seems very confident in the progression of Jakes from year one to year two.
"I'm proud of Kawaun thus far," he said. "He's really making an effort to grow-up, mature, and be a leader. There's some things that he can do from a foot standpoint that we're going to continue to do with him because we'd be silly not to."
When asked about how working with coach Azzanni has been, Jakes seemed very pleased with how things have progressed thus far.
"It's been good," Jakes said. "He's a football junkie. All he does is talk football, and I can just sit in the meeting with him and talk football all day, and I really appreciate that."
Game experience is one of the biggest things that will benefit Jakes this year. After starting every game last season, as well as appearing in eleven games in 2009, the experience of lining up under center as a starter will help Jakes and his offense tremendously.
"I'm just trying to learn the offense, trying to bring my teammates along, help them learn the playbook so we can all go out there and execute the plays together," he said.
One noticeable change in Jakes is a fresh haircut. Jakes has been known for his long dreadlocks that have become popular among the college football players; however, as he prepares for the 2011 campaign, Jakes has decided to take on a new look.
"I was just doing it for me," he said. "I got tired of the long hair and it basically [symbolizes] a fresh start."
Whether it comes to a new offense, new work ethic, or a new haircut, it is certain that Jakes will look to take big strides in leading the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers to new heights and bigger things. Jakes made it clear though, he is looking to "lead [the Tops] and have a successful year while getting better every game."
If he can accomplish these goals, there is no doubt that Jakes and the rest of the team will make things happen on the gridiron.