Much has been made about Western Michigan’s remarkable rise to the Cotton Bowl — just four years ago, that would have seemed like a pipe dream. Keion Adams was there for the start of the rebuild, and the man who would go on to lead the team in sacks served as just one of the many pieces to help lead the Broncos to their magical 2016 season.
Despite coming off a high school state championship, Adams did not taste much success as a freshman. The Broncos went a paltry 1-11, with their only win coming in a 31-30 victory over UMass. Still, it was impressive that Adams saw the field at all, and he finished with a respectable 23 totals tackles (2.5 for a loss), a sack and a forced fumble. A few glimmers of hope were there for him and the program, but they weren’t shining just yet.
While Adams’s sophomore year saw a slight decrease in his statistics, his junior was a true coming out party. After Western Michigan snagged an invite to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2014 with an 8-4 regular season, the Broncos hoped to build off their momentum into 2015. Unfortunately, their explosive outside linebacker missed three of the first four games, all of which resulted in a loss.
After finding his way against Central Michigan, Adans was a key force in Western Michigan’s victory over Ohio, registering career highs in tackles (seven) and tackles for a loss (2.5). He followed that up with a five-tackle performance with 1.5 tackles for a loss and half a sack against Miami (OH), cementing himself as a key member of the defense.
Adams ended the year on a high note with seven tackles and a sack against Toledo in a tightly contested matchup won by Western Michigan, 35-30. And then, just three short years after a single-win season, Adams brought the hammer with seven tackles (including 1.5 for a loss) and a sack in Western Michigan’s bowl win against Middle Tenessee.
Now in his senior year, Adams was telling the whole world to listen to the noise his Broncos were making. They came out firing with two wins over Big Ten programs in their first three games, as he registered four tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks over the course of those contests.
Beginning with the Broncos’ dismantling of Illinois, Adams started a streak of consistent havoc against offenses, putting up a sack in five straight games despite constant double teams. And when he wasn’t busy taking down passers, he was bringing down runners behind the line of scrimmage, as evidenced by his three stops for a loss against Georgia Southern and two against Akron.
Then, when offensive linemen decided to keep him from taking down their quarterbacks, Adams still found a way to disrupt their flow. Despite going four games without a sack, he chipped in four tackles for a loss in that stretch and put together a six-tackle performance with one forced fumble in a shutout win over Buffalo. Adams then came out with guns blazing versus Toledo and, much like the fog surrounding the field, obscured the Rockets’ chances of victory with two sacks and another forced fumble.
His 18 total tackles for a loss led the MAC, and his 7.5 sacks were good to top the charts of Western Michigan. And though the Broncos came up just short against the Badgers in the Cotton Bowl, Adams (with a key tackle for loss) and the rest of his teammates played their hearts out. For someone who was part of a one-win team in his freshman year, Adams helped evolve Western Michigan into a national contender this season, when they won their first 13 games.
– David Chough
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Analyst