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Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe with offensive coordinator Zach Kittley. (WKU Athletics photo) 

BOWLING GREEN — In his prolific career as a quarterback — first at Houston Baptist and now at Western Kentucky University — Bailey Zappe has completed passes that have covered about 8 miles.

And he’s still going strong.

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound graduate transfer has been instrumental in the Hilltoppers turning their season around after a 1-4 start by rolling to five straight Conference USA wins and becoming bowl eligible and in position for a seventh bowl bid in the last eight years.

Zappe’s statistics and his performance often are difficult to accurately describe. With a strong surrounding cast around him, in 10 games this season alone he has passed for 4,170 of his 14,174 career yards and 42 of his 120 career touchdowns.

“I love playing with Bailey. He’s a dawg, man, a true gunslinger,” said graduate offensive guard Boe Wilson. “You know we all love blocking for that guy ...”

Zappe’s total through 10 games ranks fifth all-time in single season passing yards at WKU and the school-record of 5,055 yards by Brandon Doughty in 2015 is within striking distance.

When Zach Kittley left Houston Baptist to become WKU’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Zappe and three receivers followed — Ben Ratzlaff, Jerreth Sterns and Josh Sterns.

Zappe spreads the ball around as you might expect with 342 completions on the season entering Saturday’s Senior Day game against Florida Atlantic, coached by former WKU quarterback and head coach Willie Taggart. Three players have 53 catches or more led by Sterns with a school-record 111 catches for 1,368 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The combination has helped Zappe lead a Hilltopper offense that is averaging 41.4 points a game, including 43 PPG in league play.

Before the season, Zappe, a Victoria, Texas native, predicted that the WKU offense would be exciting. After all, it was an offense he was familiar with and having a few former teammates joining him bode well for the season.

"Everybody has been open to our system, everyone loves it,” he said. “Everybody loves scoring points and that's what we're going to do this year. Everybody has really taken initiative of learning the offense, studying it and coming out every day and getting better and that's all you can ask for…." 

Kittley said among Zappe’s many positives is his ability to impact players around him.

“Having confidence at that leadership level, as a quarterback, the team kind of goes as you go, a lot of times,” he said. “If you walk out there and you’re confident, that’s also going to breed confidence in your teammates.

“His leadership, just his confidence, he knows what he’s doing and he’s familiar with our offense,” Kittley added. “He and I kind of see on the same wave-length … he understands what I like, what I don’t like and what I want to get to and all that stuff.”

In the last three games, Zappe has thrown for 1,156 yards and 13 TDs, while completing 96-of-137 pass attempts. On the season, he’s had seven passes intercepted in 483 attempts.

“It’s just a fun offense to play in and a fun offense where you can score points,” he said.

Big Ten opponents Indiana and Michigan State couldn’t slow down Zappe, 22, and the WKU offense, either. He threw for 853 yards and six TDs without an interception as the Hilltoppers put up 62 points in the two losses.

The Toppers “Air Raid’’ attack also has been getting more opportunities the last few games with the WKU defense turning Charlotte, Middle Tennessee and Rice over 14 times.

With his big numbers, Zappe also has drawn attention around the country. He’s a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award National Quarterback Award and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. He’s also a four-time Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week award winner. 

WKU leads the East Division with a 5-1 league mark — one game ahead of Marshall — with two games left. The Hilltoppers play at Marshall on Nov. 27 in a matchup that could decide the division crown.

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