Brandon Doughty did a little preparation during a spring break trip to the Florida Keys to scout potential wedding venues. While his fiancé Sydney Sisler, his mother and his future mother-in-law talked color schemes and decorations, the Western Kentucky quarterback sought refuge in his playbook.
It was a scene Doughty could have never imagined four years ago. Back then, he hobbled on the sideline after suffering a season-ending torn ACL injury just three plays into his first collegiate start. Little did he know that would lead to love. During his rehab he met Sisler, a former Hilltoppers soccer player who was also recovering from a torn ACL. "It's just crazy how God does that," Doughty told The Inside Read. "How he puts things in perspective. It was kind of unbelievable how that worked out for me. I thank God for that every single chance I get."
Second-year Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm thanks the NCAA for the return of Doughty, who led the FBS last season in passing yards (4,830) and touchdown passes (49). He was granted a medical hardship waiver for a sixth year of eligibility in December because of his injuries stemming back to 2011-12. The 23-year-old Doughty's return comes with a new nickname: "Uncle Brandon." Jokes aside, though, the dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate decided to bypass the NFL draft to achieve something he has never done in his football career. "We want to win a championship," Doughty said.
Western Kentucky has yet to win a conference title since becoming a full FBS member in 2009. The high-flying Hilltoppers shattered 49 individual and school offensive records last season on the way to an 8-5 finish in Brohm's debut campaign, which included handing Conference USA champion Marshall its lone loss, in a 67-66 overtime thriller on Nov. 28. That triumph featured Doughty tossing a C-USA-record eight touchdown passes, as well as the game-winning two-point conversion. He followed up that performance with a 486-yard, five-touchdown showing in a 49-48 win over Central Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl.
Suddenly, Doughty's dream of playing in the NFL seemed realistic. He didn't think it was possible as recently as two years ago during a disappointing redshirt junior season in which he threw as many touchdowns as interceptions (14) under then-coach Bobby Petrino. But Doughty had already made his decision to stay at Western Kentucky two weeks prior to his team's bowl win after learning the NCAA granted him a medical hardship waiver. It was a choice that didn't take long once he thought about the championship he has never won. "That's the number one reason why I'm back," Doughty said.
Despite flying under the radar last season, Doughty believes he would have compared favorably to most of the quarterbacks selected in this spring's NFL draft. He specifically mentioned former Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, a fourth-round pick by the New York Jets. This season, though, Doughty has a different mindset about where he ranks in college football's quarterback hierarchy. "I came back to be the number one guy on the list," said Doughty, C-USA's reigning MVP. "To be the face of the 2015 season."
In preparation, Doughty has addressed one of the biggest knocks against him among NFL scouts—his weight. He has packed 12 pounds on to his 6' 2" frame from to get up to 220 through a rigorous diet and intense one-on-one workouts with Western Kentucky assistant strength coach Domenic Reno, who previously worked with the NFL's New York Giants and Denver Broncos.
To gain the weight, Doughty had to be disciplined in eating more. He began consuming six to seven meals a day, sometimes three times more than normal. So he wouldn't forget to eat, Doughty set an alarm on his iPhone every four hours with a message: "Time to get better."
"I didn't realize how important that is," Doughty said of his diet.
He does now because he feels stronger and more mobile than ever. He also carries the same work ethic he had during last fall's breakout campaign, as evidenced by Doughty taking his playbook on the wedding planning trip. He still laughs at his fiancé's question when she found him packing it. "We're going to be gone three days and you've got to bring that stinking thing?" Doughty recalls her saying.
Doughty believes the extra studying has made him mentally sharper. "My progression has been unbelievable," he said. "I'm starting to pick up things of what we should start doing." That has led Doughty to keep a notepad next to his bed to jot down ideas. "I can't sleep," he said, "if I don't get it off my mind."
Doughty has been known to even scribble down thoughts in the middle of the night, and he later discusses them with Brohm and offensive coordinator Tyson Helton. "I'll wake up at 2 a.m. and think, 'Oh man, what about the double dig into Cover 2? Why can't we do that? Why don't we do that to the field rather than the boundary?" Doughty said. "It's crazy. Football's on my mind all the time."
Now if only Doughty's fiancé can get him to leave behind his playbook for one day next March—the couple's wedding.
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