WESTERN MICHIGAN PREVIEW
BRONCOS RIDE MAC PLAYERS OF THE YEAR INTO DALLAS
By Art Garcia
All coaches look for playmakers, and Western
Michigan’s Tim Lester is no different. And when it
comes to making plays, it’s been a long time since
a MAC team had a duo honored like the Broncos
did this season.
WMU swept the conference’s Offensive and Defensive
Players of the Year awards in running
back LeVante Bellamy and linebacker Treshaun
Hayward, respectively. No league team has pulled
off that dual feat since Marshall in 2001. Western
Michigan had never done it.
Those two are part of a talent-laden squad that
earned WMU a spot in the SERVPRO First Responder
Bowl on Dec. 30. The Broncos (7-5) are
matched up against Western Kentucky (8-4) for
the 11:30 a.m. kickoff at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
Lester relied heavily on Bellamy and his decision
making. The Doak Walker Award semifinalist
paced the country with 23 rushing touchdowns
and his 1,412 yards on the ground are 10th nationally.
The senior needs just 11 yards to move
into fourth on the school’s all-time yardage list.
“Bellamy has a done a great job this year,” Lester
said. “He’s really expanded his game as a running
back. He’s running inside and outside, and he has
a knack for finding the end zone. He’s a special
Hayward became the eighth WMU player to capture
the MAC Defensive Player of the Year honor.
The junior’s 132 tackles led the team, while his
10.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks were second
among Broncos. As important as his production
was his leadership on and off the field.
“We have a new defensive coordinator (Lou Esposito)
this season and we knew for our defense
as a whole it was basically going to be like freshmen
understanding a defense and the calls, and
they just continue to get better and better and better,
and as the season went on they got stronger
and stronger,” Lester said. “Tre’s athleticism and
speed really helped him play physical, but he does
a great job of understanding his role.
“The game slowed down a little bit for him, but
he’s a great blitzer, great in pass coverage and
what was exciting for us is he had a lot of tackles,
a lot of TFLs and a couple of sacks. He just continued
to get more confident as the season went on.”
Bellamy and Hayward were also instrumental in
WMU going 5-3 in the MAC, including three wins
in the last four games and a runner-up finish in
the West Division. Should the Broncos claim their
eighth victory in Dallas, it would be the most for
the program since 13 in 2016.
Another win would also mark the fourth time in six
seasons with eight or more and improve Western
Michigan’s win total by one every year under Lester
after six in 2017 and seven in 2018. The First
Responder Bowl is the fourth bowl game of Lester’s
coaching career. As an assistant, he helped
Western Michigan to the 2006 International Bowl
and Syracuse to the 2013 Texas Bowl, while guiding
WMU to the 2018 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
as head coach.