Photo courtesy of WMU Athletics/GS Photo
The heat was sweltering and the music was deafening, but Richard Ash and the Western Michigan football team were as energetic as ever during Wednesday's practice in preparation to face Purdue on Saturday.
Ash, 22, of Pahokee, Florda, is a fifth-year senior defensive tackle for the Broncos. After spending the first four years of his collegiate career at the University of Michigan, Ash made a decision to transfer to WMU to play under head coach PJ Fleck, and alongside his cousin, senior defensive back Rontavious Atkins.
As a member of the 2012 Sugar Bowl champion Wolverines, Ash is no stranger to winning football games and accumulating hardware. He is, however, new to the WMU way.
Since taking the head coaching position at WMU, Fleck (at 33 is the youngest head coach in FBS) has rejuvenated the energy around the football program through his row the boat campaign, his implementation of an in-house DJ (for both practices and games), and his spearheading of new traditions.
Coming from a more traditional program under Brady Hoke at U of M, Ash is enjoying the changes and new-school mentality of playing for Fleck at WMU.
"They both have different philosophies," Ash said, "it's also cool having a young coach because he listens to the music that I listen to," he added, chuckling.
Facing Ash is the unique undertaking of coming into a program as one of the oldest and most experienced players on the roster, but also being one of the fresh faces at WMU, who has been forced to get a crash-course in learning the Broncos' schemes, staff, and fellow players.
"To be a leader, you've got to learn first," Ash said, "I didn't want to just come in, me being older than everybody, I didn't want to demand it. I wanted everybody to see how I play, so I could set an example for them to follow."
The 6-3, 314 pound defensive lineman looks to bolster a Bronco defense that surrendered 250 yards per game rushing last year, which ranked 118 th in the country and last in the MAC.
"We start every day by stopping the run," he said, "we're trying to bring those numbers down and get (tackles for loss), I do everything I can to help contribute and help the d-line so we can get better."
Ash and the Broncos will head to West Lafayette, Indiana to face the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday, with pregame coverage on the Bronco Radio Network beginning at 11 am, and kick-off at noon.