After finishing the season 7-5, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers football program was down after it was snubbed from postseason play. While the seniors on the team were prevented from making a name for themselves during the highly-competitive bowl season, multiple WKU seniors were still called upon for the opportunity to take the next step at the professional level.
The first of the former Hilltoppers to make the next step was cornerback Derrius Brooks. Shortly after he went undrafted in the 2012 draft, Brooks signed a free agent deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. Brooks, a converted wide receiver, finished fifth on the WKU with 48 tackles while leading the team with four interceptions, which was good enough for second in the Sun Belt Conference.
While Brooks did not start until the Tops' double-overtime win at Middle Tennessee State, the Fortson, Ga., native made his presence felt during his time on the Hill. During the 2010 season, Brooks scored the game-winning two-point conversion in WKU's 36-35 overtime win over Arkansas State.
Brooks also had a hand in his teams' snapping of their 18-game home losing streak on homecoming in 2011. With less than two minutes remaining and WKU up 35-23, Brooks intercepted Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Blaine Gautier in the end zone to set up Bobby Rainey's decisive touchdown in their 42-23 win over the Ragin' Cajuns.
The next former Hilltopper to make it to the next level was defensive lineman Bo Adebayo. While the NFL did not call his name on draft day, the Canadian Football League did as Adebayo was taken in the third round of the league's draft by the Montreal Alouettes. In addition to being drafted to the CFL, Adebayo was also invited to the Detroit Lions' mini-camp.
Adebayo saw action in all 12 contests as a senior recording 31 total tackles and 8.5 tackles for a loss. Adebayo also made his presence felt during WKU's matchup with then-No. 1 LSU, when he trapped the Tigers' quarterback in the end zone for a safety in the third quarter to cut the Tiger lead to 21-9. Adebayo was part of a defense that was questioned at the start of the year due to lack of experience but finished near the top of the Sun Belt in numerous defensive categories.
The final Hilltopper to sign a professional deal was running back Bobby Rainey. Rainey, who was viewed by numerous analysts as one of the biggest snubs in the draft, signed a free agent deal with the defending AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens.
Rainey used a dominant performance down the stretch to become the school's single season and career rushing leader that was capped off with a 227 yard, three touchdown performance on senior day in WKU's 41-18 win over Troy. Rainey also finished with the school's single season record for carries and finished fifth in the nation in total yards per game.
Rainey also finished the 2010 and 2011 campaign as the national leader in carries and in the top five in rushing yards.