Western Kentucky released its depth chart for Thursday’s opener versus Rice on Monday morning courtesy of Hilltoppers’ beat writer, Chad Bishop, with one name standing out from the rest.
Here is WKU’s depth chart for Thursday’s game against Rice pic.twitter.com/lE7zMXMfRL
— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) August 29, 2016
Junior wide receiver Nacarius Fant will be the catalyst for Jeff Brohm’s mighty ‘Toppers — that’s more so a fact than a hot take.
The 2013 Mr. Kentucky award-winner has earned an increased role on the outside to provide some support for his senior counterparts, Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris.
Taylor’s the centerpiece of the offense, fresh off a season where he hauled in 17 touchdowns; Norris assumed a larger responsibility in 2015 and responded with his best season on The Hill with 971 yards on 63 receptions.
That tandem provides a powerful one-two punch for starting quarterback Mike White. Fant will be the straw that stirs the drink.
The “game changer.” The “sparkplug.” And the other laundry list of synonyms to denote a player who can turn the game around in the blink of a second — that’s Fant’s task in 2016.
“I just want to be a guy that can do everything,” Fant told Brad Stephens of the Bowling Green Daily News. “Coming into the season, I’m just going to have to be ready when my name’s called.”
The rising junior hasn’t completely tapped into his skill set, but 2015 was a good indicator of his flexibility: He was the only Hilltopper to record a rush, pass, reception, kick return and punt return. Fant finished the season with 159 yards on 13 catches; a pair of rushing attempts for 10 yards and a touchdowns; 72 yards passing and two additional touchdowns; 37 kick return yards; and, to seal the lid on the versatility badge of honor, a seven-yard punt return.
Fant played amid a crowded receiving corps last season. Due to the departures of Jared Dangerfield, Antwane Grant, and Tyler Higbee — three dangerous pass catchers — wide receivers coach Bryan Ellis expects things to fall into place for Fant, given the reduced supporting cast in 2016.
“Obviously he’ll get more targets because some of those older cats are gone,” Ellis said. “But he’s a steady player, has great hands and is really smart, which goes a long way in playing wideout.”
Those attributes play a vital role in Brohm’s high-powered scheme. Fant should be able to contribute and earn those touches sooner than later at receiver. But what’s even more interesting is the junior nabbing the first-string punt returner job.
The Hilltoppers have received steady production from redshirt junior Kylen Towner in the special teams category. Last season, Towner compiled 99 punt return yards on 14 attempts, good for a respectable 7.1 yards per clip. Fant had a smaller sample size in 2015 (four punt returns), and still, Brohm and the coaching staff feel that he can get the job done. Furthermore, Fant and Towner make for a pretty dynamic duo in the kick return game, given the latter was named to the 2016 Preseason All-Conference USA list solely based on kick returning.
As Stephens notes in the aforementioned article, Ellis expects the team to get similar production from Fant, only in greater quantities. He doesn’t need to serve as the offensive filter, but all signs are pointing to a breakout season for the up-and-coming wide receiver.