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Western Michigan players talk program’s future

After four years of improvement under Fleck, where does the program go from here?

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Wisconsin vs Western Michigan Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Finishing with a 13-1 record is as close to perfect as it gets in college football. With a victory over Wisconsin, Western Michigan would have completed its greatest season in its 111 year history with a spotless record. But after a 24-16 loss, it is clear that the program still has room for improvement and must continue to grow higher (or gROW h16her, as the team’s slogan suggests).

But it is not definite if Western Michigan will return in 2017 as the Group of Five champions, or even the top team in the MAC. P.J. Fleck is currently fielding the top recruiting class in the conference for 2017, in a year the Broncos will be granted an opportunity for their first back-to-back MAC titles.

Four-year starting quarterback Zach Terrell will graduate from the program, as will one of the greatest receivers in college football history, Corey Davis. Starting wide receivers Michael Henry and Carrington Thompson also completed their senior years following the Cotton Bowl. NFL-caliber offensive tackle Taylor Moton, left guard Jackson Day, star defensive end Keion Adams, defensive tackle David Curle, and strong safety Justin Ferguson (missed Cotton Bowl due to injury) are all key starters departing from the program after four years.

Even with a talented senior class leaving — one that fared 1-11 in 2013, 8-5 in 2014 and 2015, and 13-1 in 2016 — the Bronco bunch has hope for the future.

Given how teams including Boise State and Houston have sustained excellence throughout the years, Western Michigan can possibly rise to their level of national recognition. The running back tandem of Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan is set to return, along with one of the most critical offensive players on the team, left tackle Chukwuma Okorafor.

On the opposite side of the ball, Robert Spillane, who has lined up at inside and outside linebacker, returns to the heart of the Bronco defense. The other linebackers, Caleb Bailey and Asantay Brown, will also be seniors in 2017. Junior and return specialist Darius Phillips led the nation in interception return yards and freshman Justin Tranquill are the notable returnees of the secondary.

Finally, kicker Butch Hampton — who set the all-time single-season scoring record in MAC history on Monday — has three years of eligibility left. In a sport where kickers are crucial to winning and losing games, Hampton’s impact will be significant.

What the 2016 Western Michigan Broncos think of Fleck and the program’s future:

RB Jamauri Bogan (So.): “This program will continue to soar to even greater heights. Terrell, Davis, Taylor Moton, and all the guys who are moving on laid an elite foundation for the guys who are younger. It’s definitely going to be beneficial as the years continue to go on. We’ve had the scars of losing big games, and now we’re prepared going into the future. As Coach [Fleck] says, ‘we use our past to create our future.’”

RB Jarvion Franklin (Jr.): “[The Cotton Bowl appearance] will do nothing but great things. This is the Cotton Bowl. This is one of the most historic, most well-known bowls out there, and I’m blessed to be part of this team.”

WR Corey Davis (Sr.): “I see the Broncos future as pretty bright because they got a lot of talent, a lot of mature guys on this team. They’re very young, but I got a lot of belief in these guys. I know they’re gonna get the job done.”

OT Taylor Moton (Sr.): “I know that these guys have a bright future ahead. [Fleck] gave us a wonderful speech at the end telling us don’t forget what a wonderful season we had, and springboard us for the rest of our lives for the seniors, and springboard the younger guys for the winter conditioning so they can get after it and have an even better season than we did this year.”

ILB Robert Spillane (Jr.): “We have a bright future. All I know is our seniors, our juniors, and everyone that played today played with their hearts out and left everything on the field. I love this team and I love this family.”