By Carey Phillips
A new era in Western Carolina football will get underway Saturday when Eastern Kentucky comes to E.J. Whitmire Stadium/Bob Waters Field to open the season with a 6 p.m. kickoff.
WYCW (channel 62) will televise the game.
The game will mark the WCU coaching debut of Kerwin Bell, a former Florida quarterback who coached Valdosta State to the Division II national championship in 2018. He replaces Mark Speir, who was dismissed after nine seasons.
Bell has remade the roster and coaching staff, which includes his son, Kade Bell, as offensive coordinator.
There are 12 players on the roster who were granted an extra year of eligibility by NCAA rules regarding COVID-19. Three of those are transfers, including quarterback Rogan Wells, who has a long history with the Bell family. He was QB on Valdosta’s 2018 national championship team and last year was quarterback at Tusculum, where Kade Bell was an assistant. Wells is the grandson of Doug Dickey, who spent time as head coach at Tennessee and Florida.
The Catamounts went 1-8 last year in a season that was split between late fall and spring due to COVID.
One of those fall games was a 49-17 loss at Eastern Kentucky.
The Colonels played their entire 2020 season in the fall and went 3-9.
Parker McKinney is expected to be quarterback for Coach Walt Wells’ team.
Offensive lineman Tyler Smith is WCU’s only representative on the preseason All-Southern Conference team. He is one of five returning starters on offense, with three of those on the line.
Western is picked to finish last in the league in voting by the coaches and media. UT-Chattanooga is the preseason favorite by both the coaches and media.
The coaches selected Samford second, followed by Virginia Military, East Tennessee, Furman, Mercer, Citadel, Wofford and WCU.
The media went with VMI second, and had Samford, ETSU and Furman tied for third. Mercer was sixth, followed by Wofford, Citadel and WCU.
Fans are encouraged to wear white in an effort to “#WhiteOutWhitmire,” as the Catamounts wear their new white Nike uniforms for the first time.
A fireworks show is planned following the game and an encore band presentation.