Single-season records fell in the final game of the 2007 season.
Friday, January 4, 2002 was a very special day for many people. It was also a day Kent Briggs had long dreamed about. On that day, the 1979 Western Carolina graduate was introduced as the Catamounts' 11th head football coach.
"People who know me know that I'm a dreamer," Briggs said when he took the podium. "And they know that the most important dream I've had is to be standing here (as WCU head football coach) today."
The scene on the Ramsey Center concourse -- where the press conference took place -- was one which bridged Western's most successful time in its football history to what hopes to be a bright future for the Catamount faithful. Briggs, a former Catamount quarterback and assistant coach, addressed the media and fans overlooking the field which bears the name of his mentor, the legendary WCU head coach Bob Waters.
Listening to Briggs speak on that day -- or any day since -- leaves no doubt that returning to Western Carolina as head football coach was his ultimate destination. There is also no doubt that he loves Western and is passionate about making this program prominent across the nation.
In his four years as head coach, producing a 19-24 record, Briggs has made Western known as having a wide-open offense and an aggressive defense, attracting some of the top skill players in the region.
The 2005 season saw Briggs put the Catamounts in position to play for the Southern Conference championship as well as put WCU on the national map.
First, Western opened the season with a 2-0 record, including an upset over Furman, who was ranked second at the time. After the win, the Cats vaulted into the national polls at #21, marking the program's first entrance in the top 25 since Nov. 15, 1994.
Although the Catamounts would go on to drop three straight, including a near upset at Cincinnati, Western would reel off three straight wins, including a win over then SoCon leader Chattanooga and Wofford first time to be shutout in league play, be in position to play for the league title, also a first for WCU since 1994.
Western would eventually fall to Appalachian State in the regular-season finale, but it would not dampen an exciting season.
Western placed 10 student-athletes on the All-SoCon team, including first team picks Felipe Foster, Mike Malone, Francis Brown, Primus Glover and Rico Reese. Second team honors were bestowed upon Kevin McAlmont, Linden Ryan, Darius Fudge, Lamar Barnes and Tim Mayse. The Catamount defense would lead the nation in pass defense and pace the SoCon in total defense while Western led the nation in kick returns.
In 2004, Western's defense took another step toward being one of the best in the nation. After leading the Southern Conference in rush defense for the first time ever the previous year, the Cats ended the season ranked 12th nationally in total defense, allowing just 301.91 yards per game, to have its highest ever national rank in the category. In turn, Western placed three defenders --Albert Reid, Primus Glover and Bruce Lee -- on the All-SoCon team. Also, sophomore punter Tim Mayse was tabbed second team All-SoCon after leading the league in punting, ranking 26th nationally and helping WCU rank 25th nationally in punt return defense.
In 2003, the Catamounts led the SoCon in passing for a second consecutive year, averaging 239.75 yards per game. Quarterback Brian Gaither, who led the SoCon in passing and total offense, and receiver Lamont Seward, who ranked second in the SoCon in receptions and receiving yards, had one of the best seasons in WCU history as each ended their careers as among the top five in virtually every statistical category, respectively.
In 2002, Western Carolina also led the Southern Conference passing with a 243.5 average. It marked just the fifth time the Cats had led the league in passing, thanks quarterbacks Pat Cilento and Gaither each throwing for over 1,000 yards.
Ironically, Briggs was involved with the program in the only other four times Western paced the SoCon in passing, three times as a quarterback (1977, `78 and `79) and once as an assistant coach (1982).
While Western's offense has made headlines over the past three years, the Catamount defense began to make a name for itself in 2003. After ranking 116th nationally in rushing defense in 2002, the Cats led the SoCon for the first time ever in the category, ranking 14th nationally facing teams in the run-happy SoCon.
Also, the WCU special teams ranked among the national leaders, specifically ranking fourth in net punting.
In both 2002 and 2003, Western landed seven players on the all-conference teams. In 2003, five Catamounts were first team honorees (Jason Whaley, Lamont Seward, Todd Bargella, Nick McNeil and Michale Spicer), while Rod Dunlap and Brian Gaither were second team selections. In 2002, the Cats had four first team selections (Michael Banks, Spicer, Bargella and Ahmed Green), while Dunlap, Whaley and McNeil earned second team honors.
More individual honors have come Western's way over the past two years as Spicer became WCU's 26th All-American honoree in 2002 and he was invited to play in the prestigious Blue-Gray All-Star Classic. In 2003, Jason Whaley became one of Western's most decorated players in school history. A two-time All-SoCon pick, Whaley was named All-American for his play on the field and added first team Academic All-America honors for his work in the classroom as well. Also, Whaley was one of just 15 student-athletes from across the country - selected from NCAA Divisions I-A, I-AA, II, III and the NAIA - to be named to College Football's 2003 National Scholar-Athlete Class and receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship from The National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
At season's end, Spicer, McNeil and Gaither each signed free agent contracts with McNeil ending up making the Green Bay Packers in 2004 and, after being named first team All-NFL Europe in the summer of 2005, signed on with the Washington Redskins and made the team's playoff roster.
In addition to his on field success, Briggs and his staff are making an impact on the recruiting trail as well. In his first season he said, "I felt we brought in one of the best recruiting classes ever in WCU history." One year later, his statement was trumped as SouthernPigskin.com said, "With transfers from D1-A programs, it's easy to see why we tabbed Western Carolina as having the best Southern Conference recruiting class in 2004."
Briggs returned to Cullowhee after one season as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at the University of Connecticut. Prior to his appointment with the Huskies, Briggs spent 11 seasons (1989-99) as an assistant coach at North Carolina State University, including four years (1996-99) as co-defensive coordinator. He started his tenure with the Wolfpack working with the defensive backs from 1989-90, a position he coached from 1994-99 as well, while coaching the outside linebackers from 1991-93.
His Wolfpack 1998 defense ranked among the nation's leaders in pass efficiency, while ending the season tied for second in the NCAA with 19 interceptions. In 1989, the N.C. State defense led the Atlantic Coast Conference by allowing just 167.8 passing yards per game. He helped the Wolfpack earn seven postseason berths, including the 1998 Micron PC Bowl, the 1991 and 1994 Peach Bowls, the 1993 Hall of Fame Bowl, the 1992 Gator Bowl, the 1990 All-American Bowl and the 1989 Copper Bowl. Also, N.C. State defeated Iowa in the 1990 Kickoff Classic and Texas in the 1999 Black Coaches Association Classic.
Briggs spent nine seasons (1980-88) as an assistant with the Cats under Coach Bob Waters. Upon earning his bachelor's degree in physical education in 1979 from Western, Briggs spent two seasons (1980-81) as a graduate assistant, working with the quarterbacks and wide receivers. During that time, he completed his master's degree in physical education. In 1982 Waters made Briggs a full-time assistant. He coached the defensive ends from 1982-83, the outside linebackers from 1984-85 and the defensive backs from 1986-88.
In 1983, Briggs helped the Catamounts have their best season in school history, posting a 11-3-1 record and reaching the NCAA I-AA championship game. Western opened the following season as the nation's top-ranked team before finishing 14th with an 8-3 mark.
In his 21 years at the collegiate level, Briggs has coached 14 players who have signed professional football contracts -- 12 in the National Football League and two in the Canadian Football League. Among the WCU greats to move on to the NFL under Briggs' guidance include All-Americans Louis Cooper and Clyde Simmons.
The Asheville native and A.C. Reynolds High product played quarterback at WCU from 1976-79. Briggs started several games as a redshirt freshman in 1976, completing 25-of-40 passes for 353 yards with four touchdowns and only one interception. He spent the 1977 and 1978 seasons as a backup to the SoCon's leading passer Mike Pusey. For his senior season, Briggs played in nine games, nearly matching his freshman year totals with 24 completions on 41 attempts for 270 yards and a touchdown. Briggs helped Western to a winning record each of his four years, which is the only time WCU has had four consecutive winning seasons.
Briggs, 49, is married to the former Lisa Thomas, who is a Western Carolina graduate and a WCU criminal justice professor. The couple have two children -- daughter Alexandra (14) and son Cody (11).