Dec. 6—BOWLING GREEN — The Western Kentucky football program received sobering news regarding the quarterback position on Monday, as the Hilltoppers prepare to face a powerful South Alabama team on Dec. 21 in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
Both starting quarterback Austin Reed, the nation's No. 2 statistical passer, as well as backup Darius Ocean, announced they are entering the NCAA transfer portal.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Reed, a Florida native listed as a graduate senior, transferred to WKU after a highly-successful run at West Florida, where in 2019 he led the team to the NCAA Division II national championship — throwing for 4,084 yards and 40 touchdowns. He chose to transfer to WKU over BYU.
Reed, who originally signed with Southern Illinois out of St. Augustine High School, proved to be a worthy successor to Bailey Zappe, who broke Joe Burrow's FBS single-season record for touchdown passes with 62 last fall. Zappe helped the Hilltoppers go 9-4 and defeat Appalachian State 59-38 in the Boca Raton Bowl. Zappe now plays for the NFL's New England Patriots.
This fall, Reed is second in the nation in passing yards (4,247), completions (353) and touchdown passes (36). His last completion for the Hilltoppers was a 2-point conversion pass to tight end Joshua Simon that lifted Western to a 32-31 overtime conquest of Florida Atlantic in the regular-season finale on Nov. 26 at Boca Raton.
In preseason camp, Reed beat out West Virginia transfer Jarrett Doege for the Hilltoppers' starting job. Doege subsequently transferred to Troy, and famously came off the bench in the fourth quarter to lead the Trojans to a 34-27 victory over WKU on Oct. 1 at Houchens-Smith Stadium.
Reed is a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award, presented annually to the best NCAA quarterback, as selected by the Davey O'Brien Foundation.
Ocean, a 6-foot, 190-pound redshirt freshman out of Raleigh, N.C., played in five games for the Hilltoppers in 2022, completing 7-of-12 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Ocean announced his transfer intentions via his Twitter account, as published by The Towel Rack.
WKU may now turn to true freshman Caden Veltkamp, a 6-5, 220-pound hometown product out of South Warren High School. He is listed as the No. 3 QB on the Hilltoppers' depth chart.
This season, Veltkamp appeared in just one game for WKU, going 4-of-4 through the air for 25 yards.
In 2021, as a high school senior, Veltkamp led South Warren to the KHSAA Class 5-A state championship, completing 173-of-254 passes for 2,456 yards and 35 touchdowns as the Spartans finished 14-1, defeating Frederick Douglass in the title game.
WKU (8-5) will be appearing its ninth bowl game in the last 11 years against a South Alabama team that won 10 of 12 regular-season games, and lost only to UCLA (32-31) and Sun Belt Conference champion Troy (10-6).