Sports_wkufb090321-11.jpg

Western Kentucky freshman running back Kye Robichaux carries the ball Thursday in the Hilltoppers' 59-21 win over UT Martin at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

With experienced players in the running backs room entering the season, it’s an unexpected name atop Western Kentucky’s rushing statistics after one game.

True freshman walk-on Kye Robichaux led the Hilltoppers’ ground game in the team’s 59-21 season-opening victory over UT Martin on Sept. 2, and WKU is expecting more of the same from him moving forward.

“He had a great camp, was a very consistent, strong runner, kind of Steady Eddie just always getting positive yardage,” WKU head coach Tyson Helton said Monday in his weekly news conference. “He showed us enough to go play him and did a nice job in his first game. I think you’ll continue to see more of him.”

WKU put up 587 yards of offense against the Skyhawks, with 109 coming on the ground. Of that, the 6-foot, 215-pound running back from Columbus, Ga., accounted for 44 yards on nine carries – an average of 4.9 yards per carry. He was the first true freshman walk-on in the BCS/Playoff Era to lead their team in rushing in their first game, according to the WKU Football Recruiting Twitter page.

“Honestly, it was a dream come true,” Robichaux said after Tuesday’s practice. “God willing, without Him I wouldn’t be where I’m at today and just to be in that atmosphere and experience everything for the first time, it was definitely something I will never forget.”

The Hilltoppers returned running backs Jakairi Moses, Noah Whittington and C.J. Jones from last year’s team, and brought in North Dakota State transfer Adam Cofield, who was expected to carry much of the load – he was the starting back Thursday and finished with 40 yards on 10 carries. WKU also signed Bowling Green graduate and Navy transfer Jamale Carothers, but because of his late addition he’s started the fall further down the depth chart.

With a stable of talented backs, Robichaux still decided to come to Bowling Green to play after leading Glenwood High School to a 21-5 record during his final two seasons with 1,738 yards and 24 touchdowns rushing during that span.

The main reason he chose WKU? First-year running backs coach Carlos Locklyn.

Locklyn – who describes himself as a “walk-on coach” after starting his collegiate coaching career as a volunteer weight room assistant at Memphis – met and spoke with Robichaux through Twitter, and that relationship helped Robichaux decide to join the Hilltoppers.

“I’ve put all my faith and all my trust in him and I knew that I was coming into a great situation,” Robichaux said.

Robichaux says Locklyn is like an uncle to him, and credits his ability to teach as one of his strongest attributes.

“He makes sure that you understand it and why certain things happen and what you should do to be prepared for the moment,” Robichaux said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t want to have any other coach.”

It’s part of why Robichaux was on the field as fast as he was. Robichaux said his main focuses through camp were adjusting to the faster speed at the college level and learning the playbook under first-year offensive coordinator Zach Kittley.

It didn’t take long before he started turning his teammates’ heads in practice.

“He didn’t work with us too much at first and obviously he started bursting onto the scene and I was like, ‘Man, this kid can run. This kid puts his head down and runs between the tackles,’ “ redshirt senior left tackle Cole Spencer said after Tuesday’s practice. “I’m pretty excited about him. Obviously he had a pretty good showing Thursday, so I’m pretty excited to see what else he can do.”

Once he got in Thursday’s opener – a surprise to many outside the program – it didn’t take long for him to start turning heads again.

Robichaux came out of nowhere and erupted for bursts of 6, 6 and 5 yards on back-to-back-to-back plays midway through the second quarter after WKU got off to a somewhat slow start on the ground. He added 11 yards on three carries in the third and opened the fourth with a 10-yard strike before finishing with his 44 total yards.

While WKU does have options at the position, including having Whittington available for Saturday’s game at Army after he missed the opener, the team is high on the freshman walk-on.

“Kye’s kind of a silent killer. He’s not a man of many words, but he comes to work and he runs downhill hard,” Kittley said. “Love backs like him. He’s a big back. He’s a young guy, true freshman walk-on – probably won’t be for too much longer.

“Really, really impressed with Kye and what he’s done. Came in, understood his role early being a scout team guy and really just coming to work every day and morphed into that backup running back for that first game.”{&end}

– Follow sports reporter Jared MacDonald on Twitter @JMacDonaldSport or visit bgdailynews.com.