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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 27, Digital 6

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Page 15 of 117

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 27, ISSUE 6 16 and conditioning Justin Lovett, who often uses Twitter to call out players. Swagger and individuality are explicitly encouraged, not suppressed. There are no slogans. Coaches have empowered players to take charge of the locker room and, with that, team discipline. Work is expected to be done and responsibility is given, but there's still a fun, enjoy-coming- to-the-building vibe, quarterback David Blough said. It's an all-encompassing, how- it-should-be environment, many players said. "It's almost like we're treated as professionals, like we're sup- posed to conduct ourselves as professionals: Be where you're supposed to be. Be there on time. Don't miss anything," linebacker Danny Ezechukwu said. "And if you are (not on time), there are repercussions, so much so that it'll probably make you rethink if you want to be here or not." Gerad Parker warned players this could happen. After taking over in an interim role for fired Darrell Hazell in the middle of last season, Parker gathered the team to remind players that if they wanted a chance to be part of the new vision of the next coaching staff, they'd better stay out of trouble, do everything they were sup- posed to and work harder than ever. "Because these guys are going to try to bring in guys who are going to help the program go to the next level and if you don't fit that part, you're gone," fourth-year junior D.J. Knox said, relaying Parker's conversation. "It definitely sends the message that nobody is irreplaceable on the team. That's all you can really expect, especially with guys coming in and having their own system and things they want to get done. You have to put your best foot forward just to show you're worthy of keeping your scholarship because they have no obligations to you, see- ing that they didn't bring you in. "I feel like everybody took that into consideration, and we had a couple guys who left. I don't necessarily know the circumstances, the logistics of the situation, but I feel like Coach Brohm is a fair guy, and he's made a lot of decisions to help this program." Brohm hasn't had much experience reconstructing a program — Western Kentucky already was a winning one when he took over for Bobby Petrino — but he did more than just sustain success. He took the program to another level, winning 30 of 40 games, including a bowl in each season. And last season, WKU not only had one of the nation's most explosive offenses (first in scoring offense with 45.5 points per game and fifth in total offense with 523.1 yards per game) but also one of the most improved and aggressive defenses (No. 2 in FBS in rushing D and forcing 21 turnovers). That success came, in part, be- cause Brohm continued to seek, manipulate and transform the roster each season. There were considerable personnel losses over those years, whether it was a first-team all-league quarterback, first-team all- league tight end or first-team all-league linebacker. But, in 2016, WKU's top QB was a transfer from South Florida and its top linebacker a transfer from Louisville. "Even when you're coming off a great year, you still want to constantly improve your roster and make sure that you're doing everything necessary," Brohm said. "Sometimes that isn't a lot, but you've always got to have your eyes and ears open so that you at least keep con- stant competition amongst the team where no one thinks they can just walk out there and get it done. I think that's critical. I'm certain there's not many on (this) team who think they can do that now. There has to be competition. They have to know if they don't get it done or they're not playing hard, there's someone else we can put in there. When they know that and it's realistic, they respond. So we have to make sure it's realistic." The Boilermakers will find out right away where they stand — and how much more tweaking Brohm and his staff have to do — with the season opener against Lou- isville on Sept. 2 in Lucas Oil Stadium. The Cardinals likely will be a top-20 team, led by Heisman Trophy win- ner Lamar Jackson. The home opener will be against "We realized, 'We've got to find a way to get it done.' It's about getting the guys here better and develop- ing them. It's (also) about getting new, fresh blood in here to challenge them." Jeff Brohm of the early evaluation process

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