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Dean hoping for second title at Western

August 17, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

A host of area high school stars headed off to college last summer to further their football careers. But only one of them came home with a national championship ring.

J.R. Dean isn't wearing that ring as much as he did in the weeks after he received it in the spring, but the Mercer County High School graduate is rightfully proud of it.

He is fully aware of the implications it has for the coming season, both for Dean and for his Western Kentucky team.

"We won a national championship, so I guess I didn't have an ordinary first year in college," Dean said. "That kind of sets your expectations high for the following year."

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Dean didn't play a down last season - he was redshirted and has four years of eligibility remaining - but he got the same ring as everyone else who helped Western win its first NCAA Division I-AA championship. The players received their rings at a ceremony after the Hilltoppers' spring game, and Dean said it was a special moment for him.

"That'll be a memory I'll remember the rest of my life," he said. "The first two or three weeks, I wore it pretty much every day. Now I only wear it on special occasions."

One memory Dean doesn't have is of being on hand for the national championship game in Chattanooga, Tenn. NCAA rules prohibit schools from taking players who aren't on the travel squad to road games - even if they sit in the stands - so Dean watched the title game on television.

"It would've been nicer to be there, but it was nice knowing I helped them get there," he said.

Dean spent his season doing the things most redshirt players do. The 6-1 Dean put on 20 pounds during the season and weighed 300 to 305 pounds during the summer. He said he hopes to play at 295 to 300.

"They had all of the freshmen put on as much weight as possible and work on the basic fundamentals of our position," he said.

Dean hopes to do more this season.

"I'm in pretty good shape to make the travel squad. That's my goal," he said.

It seems like a good bet, given the fact that he finished spring practice at No. 2 on the depth chart at right guard.

Dean is playing for his second position coach in as many years. There are several new faces on the staff put together by David Elson, a former assistant promoted to head coach after Jack Harbaugh resigned, and one of them is offensive line coach Walter Wells, who comes to Western from Eastern Kentucky.

"He's intense," Dean said. "He pushes you so hard and makes you strive for your best."

Western's best was good enough for a championship last season, something no one thought was possible when the season began.

"Going into the season, nobody expected anything from us," Dean said. "We really didn't have any star players, but we were a team."

And while a repeat might seem like a tall order, Dean said it isn't out of the question.

"We have the talent to do it again, but we have to find replacements for players from last year at the quarterback and running back positions," he said. "We've just got to come together."

Dean won't be the only area player helping the Hilltoppers this fall.

Jake Rostker, who graduated from Boyle County High School this spring, is a walk-on freshman.

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