In trying to rekindle the glory days under former coach Roy Kidd, the Eastern Kentucky football team has turned to a former Kidd assistant.
The 2020 season will be the first for the Colonels under new coach Walt Wells, who had two stints at EKU, including from 1997-2002 under Kidd. During that span, Eastern Kentucky won Kidd’s 10th Ohio Valley Conference title. Wells also spent the 2015 season at EKU as its assistant head coach and offensive line coach.
He’ll get a major test Sept. 12, when he takes his team to Morgantown for West Virginia University’s home opener.
Kidd’s salad days are long gone. The Colonels have made the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs just twice since 2008, the last time in 2014. EKU’s coach before Wells, Mark Elder, never made the postseason, never won more than seven games and never finished higher than third in the OVC.
In pursuit of those better times, Wells will have to do it without some very important and talented players. Seven Colonels were named to either the 2019 All-OVC first or second team. Four of them have departed, including All-American and conference defensive player of the year Aaron Patrick. Patrick finished his EKU career with 27½ sacks, second-most in program history, and recorded 10 of those last season.
Also gone are 2019 OVC leading rusher Daryl McCleskey, top kicker Samuel Heyworth and defensive lineman Taquan Evans.
Luckily for Wells, he has a running back ready to step into McCleskey’s shoes. Alonzo Booth was a second-team All-OVC pick who rushed for 14 touchdowns in 2019, which topped the conference.
The Colonels also will have two second-team all-conference offensive linemen back in redshirt sophomores Tucker Schroeder and Graham Ashkettle. The two helped pave the way for a rushing offense that finished 22nd in the FCS at 205.5 yards per game.
EKU has plenty of work to do in its passing game. The Colonels threw for just 158.7 yards per game last season and nine total touchdowns. Two quarterbacks shared the starting job, Parker McKinney with seven starts and Conor Blount with five.
Blount, a redshirt junior who transferred from Oregon State, did not return to the team for 2020. McKinney led EKU with 1,371 passing yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The good news for Eastern Kentucky defensively is that seven of its 11 starters are back from a unit that finished 22nd nationally in the FCS in points allowed per game. Linebacker Steven Crowder recorded 9½ tackles for loss last season while linebacker Daulson Patrick recorded 36 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions. Corner Josh Hayes and safety Joseph Sayles each picked off two passes in 2019.
While the Colonels need a new place-kicker, they have an effective kick returner in sophomore Quentin Pringle. He led the conference and was eighth in the nation as a freshman at 27.1 yards per return.
If the Colonels can score on the Mountaineers in September, it will be the first time since 2018 they would have done so against a Football Bowl Subdivision team. EKU’s lone 2019 game against an FBS foe was a 42-0 loss at Louisville.