Since joining the NCAA D-1A FBS, Western Kentucky Football has become known for its ability to air it out. Former quarterbacks like Brandon Doughty and Mike White were arguably the most prolific passers in program history. But now it's time for a new man to take over the role of the most important position on a football team. That man is redshirt-senior Drew Eckels.
"I will take them as far as they would like to go," Eckels said. "That's what I keep telling them. As far as they wanna go, I'm taking you guys. And that's my promise to them."
For a player with only 214 passing yards and two touchdowns in his collegiate career, the Daytona, Florida, native isn't short on confidence. A key trait he'll need as he finally gets his shot as QB1 for the Hilltoppers.
"I've always been ready to be the guy in case something happens," he said. "I've always been ready no matter what it is. I feel like now I'm actually that guy, and I'm ready to take on the role that I've been pursuing my whole life."
In now his fifth season on the Hill, Eckels has yet to start a game for WKU. That will change when the signal-caller leads his team into Madison on August 31 for their season opener at Wisconsin, a game he's been getting his team ready for the entire offseason.
"He ran 13 player-run practices," said Head Coach Mike Sanford, who's been working a lot more closely with the quarterback unit this year. "That's a pretty big homework assignment. 105 guys having them all go in the same direction. On Thursdays, that was player run meetings, and we put that squarely on Drew to run those meetings."
"Drew took over," redshirt-sophomore quarterback Steven Duncan said about the man above him on the depth chart. "He really led us in the position meetings that were with us. He took control of it and he did a great job with it."
Being one of ten seniors on this year's young and inexperienced roster, Eckels knew he had to step into a bigger leadership role for the team. Mix that with the pressure of being the starting quarterback, and it's a lot to handle for a rather untested passer. Who better for him to turn to for advice other than his former teammate and fellow Florida native Mike White, a guy just taken by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2018 NFL Draft.
"He just told me to mainly keep my poise and just keep doing what I'm doing," Eckels said. "He believes in me, obviously. It's kind of good to hear that when someone who just got drafted by the [Dallas] Cowboys to hear them say that they believe in you, and know what you can do."
White may have had the better arm strength, but the added dynamic of running ability is something Eckels brings to the table that his predecessor did not.
"We knew he was a talented runner, but now he's running great," said Duncan. "He's starting to read the progression of the line and see how it goes. He's doing a great job with that."
Eckels mentioned that throughout his life, he's had to work hard to exceed the expectations people had for him. This season is no different, but not just for him - for the rest of the 2018 Hilltopper Football team as well.
"No matter what you do, people are going to tell you what you can and can't do," Eckels said. "I think this season is just about proving everyone wrong. And that's exactly what we're going to do."
Western Kentucky and Eckels will have a chance to do just that as they kick off their 2018 campaign at Wisconsin on Aug. 31 inside Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, with the game set to air at 8 p.m. on ESPN.