Let me be the first to announce Jerreth Sterns’ name to the football world. The next boundary weapon from a Group of Five school set to enjoy an uber-successful offseason circuit and ensuing draft stock rise, if you don’t know by now, the Western Kentucky Hilltopper has been arguably the most dominant pound-for-pound player at any position in the entire country. Built in the mold of former Purdue standout and Arizona Cardinals rookie stud Rondale Moore, by no means will Sterns stand out in a crowded room of athletes at 5-foot-9, but when you strap up and throw Sterns into the fire of gridiron action, he’s quickly become a name to bold when focusing on potential diamond-in-the-rough prospects this spring.
A 2-star recruit out of Waxahachie, Texas, you can’t help but root for a talent like Sterns. Unheralded and underrecruited out of high school, Sterns has proved dominant since he first stepped foot on Western Kentucky’s campus in December of 2020 after transferring in from Houston Baptist. More on that later.
A talent slid under the rug in what is a dog-eat-dog recruiting trail in the football hotbed that is the state of Texas, Sterns comes from a long line of gridiron lineage with three brothers, each with football laced within their DNA. His oldest brother Jordan played safety at Oklahoma State from 2013-16, his youngest brother Josh is currently a wideout alongside him at WKU, and Caden, a former safety at Texas and the Denver Broncos’ fifth-rounder in 2021, represents the poster child of the Sterns family, for now, as a former 5-star recruit and current apex defender in the NFL. But, put the stars aside when it comes to Jerreth Sterns, who finds himself among college football’s elite when it comes to production on the football field this fall.
Named to the Associated Press’ Midseason All-America Team a few weeks back, Sterns became just one of four players from a Group of Five school listed among the 25 athletes that make up the full team on offense, defense, and special teams. Additionally, Sterns became the first Hilltopper to earn the honor in the program's FBS Era (since 2009), joining former tight end Tyler Higbee (2015) as WKU's only Midseason All-Americans recognized in that time frame.
The accolades don’t stop there.
In a three-game span earlier this year against Michigan State, UTSA, and Old Dominion, Sterns amassed 46 receptions for 602 yards and four touchdowns, becoming just the fifth player since the turn of the millennium with 46 or more receptions in a three-game span, and the 14th with at least 600 yards in a three-game span. If that doesn’t draw your attention, his 69 receptions for 962 yards and eight touchdowns joined Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree in 2007 as the only two FBS receivers since 2000 with at least 64 catches and 950 yards in their team's first six games of the season.
Now in Week 8, Sterns is the leader among all wideouts in every major receiving category and has shown zero signs of a downshift in production working alongside fellow Houston Baptist transfer Bailey Zappe. Zappe, a gun-slinger drawing NFL attention in his own right, provided a package deal to Tyson Helton’s ball club. A three-year starter for the Huskies, like Sterns, the two entered the transfer portal last winter, quickly finding a home in the confines of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Making the move north alongside now Hilltopper offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, Sterns and Zappe’s relationship has grown into something indescribable.
“Off the field is really what translates on the field, we’re best friends,” Zappe said in a recent exclusive interview with TDN’s Crissy Froyd.
“We’re together 24/7 off the field. I think the connection and being basically like brothers has helped us to have that chemistry on the field. There was a moment from the last game where we were toward the end of the second quarter and we’re driving. He looks at me and nods his head and tells me something and I’m like, okay, let’s do it. I check him a play and it works out. We have a lot of trust in each other, for him to be where he’s supposed to be and I’m blessed to have a guy like him. He’s made me look good in a lot of situations and he deserves everything he gets this year.”
I truly can’t explain how darn explosive Sterns has been this fall. What makes his 2021 so eye-popping is the way in which defenses have approached the Hilltoppers’ aerial attack. Like BYU last fall in which it was the Zach Wilson to Dax Milne show week in and week out, Milne totaled 70 catches for 1,188 yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games played. In SEVEN games, and with all 11 sets of eyes on him at all times, Sterns has totaled 83 catches for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns. And it’s not like Western Kentucky has consistently blown their opponents out either, compared to Wilson and Milne who steamrolled to an 11-1 record last fall. The Hilltoppers are currently 3-4, which has seen less time for the ball to be in Zappe’s hands, and in turn, fewer snaps for Sterns. But, nonetheless, despite what opposing coordinators have attempted to do to counter Sterns’ dominance, he continues to improve while showcasing a skill set NFL circles drool over in the passing game.
While each year we often see stat stuffers across the nation garner attention for obvious reasons, their success is usually limited to the collegiate landscape, quickly becoming vacant on Sundays (think Donnel Pumphrey). For Sterns, however, an elite pass-catcher who’s shown an ability to win inside and out within the formation via an acutely detailed route-tree, he has not only rapidly become one of my favorite prospects of the draft circuit, but an outstanding story to all that is good in college football.