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Young, new coach has high hopes for WKU football

Updated: Aug. 27, 2017 at 9:20 PM EDT
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BOWLING GREEN, KY (WAVE)  It's the beginning of a new era at Western Kentucky University that hopes to pick up where the last era left off on the football field.

After winning back-to-back Conference USA titles, former head coach Jeff Brohm left the school to take the job at Purdue.  Now at the youthful age of 35, Mike Sanford steps in to hopefully take the Hilltoppers to the next level.

"I think that this program and where we're at right now," Sanford said. "It feels like we're at the crescendo, it's at the pinnacle place it could be, but there's a lot left.  We've really just scratched the surface of where this program can go, and that's what's exciting to me."

This is actually Sanford's second stint at the school.  He served as quarterbacks coach under Willie Taggart back in 2010.  Since then, he served three years at Stanford, one season as the offensive coordinator at his alma mater, Boise State, and spent the last season as the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame.

During that time coaching at the highest level of college football, Sanford coached in three Fiesta Bowls and two Rose Bowls.  He says while the bowl games WKU played in over the last few years have been nice, he thinks they should set their goals even higher.

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"What I wanted these player in this program to understand is there's more out there, "Sanford said. "There is. There's more out there. You know, a Boca Raton Bowl, a Miami Beach Bowl, you know a Bahamas Bowl victory, those are awesome, but you're not playing in front of 85,000 and maybe even an extra 50 million across the globe in viewership on television."

Sanford is only 35, and looks younger than that, which sometimes can make things difficult when on the recruiting trail.

"There's times when I might go into a high school recruiting," Sanford said. "I typically travel with my backpack on, and I'll go in.  There's times when a school hall monitor will ask me if I'm looking for my classroom, and I'll tell them that I'm the head football coach at Western Kentucky, and that'll get a funny look out of them."

He feels his age gives him an advantage in other areas.  Especially when it comes to relating to his players.  He likes playing video games, and listens to some of the same music as his players.  Traits that made him easy to embrace when he took over the program.

"It's definitely shocking to have someone in just as young as us.  It's different," senior defensive back, Joe Brown said.

While Sanford's method may be different than Brohm, the philosophy on offense remains the same.  Score and score often.

"Every time we take the field offensively we expect to score, and finish with PAT's, Sanford said.  "That's what we want to do.  One of our mantras is every drive ends with a kick of some sort.  Whether that be a PAT, or a field goal or a punt,"

Sanford inherits an offense that was second in the country behind national champion, Clemson in total offense, and scored more points than anybody in the country with 637.  Returning senior quarterback, Mike White is listed on every preseason watchlist after ranking fifth in the country last year in passing yards, and tied for eighth in passing touchdowns.  Sanford excited to have a weapon like White leading his offense.

"Mike White's special, he really is," Sanford said.  "This is it for him to lead this program to heights its never seen."

Sanford's goal in his first year at WKU is to play in a New Year's Day bowl game.

They begin that quest for that goal on September 2nd against in-state rival, Eastern Kentucky before heading to Champagne to take on Big Ten opponent, Illinois.

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