It was for only a season, but Jerreth Sterns made an indelible mark on the Western Kentucky University football program.
While quarterback Bailey Zappe received much of the national attention for setting records this season for the Hilltoppers, Sterns found himself on the receiving end of many of the signal-caller’s highlight-reel throws.
The duo, who transferred to WKU together from FCS Houston Baptist prior to the 2021 campaign, helped guide the Hilltoppers to a 9-5 record, a runner-up finish in Conference USA and a win over App State in the Boca Raton Bowl.
In the bowl-game victory, Sterns reeled in 13 passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns — but the 5-foot-9, 195-pound dynamo didn’t want any credit for his performance.
“I’d give the credit to everyone else, honestly,” he said. “Mitch (Tinsley) making great plays on the outside, and then, obviously, having the best quarterback in the nation makes my job a lot easier.
“And then, I don’t think our O-line gets the love they deserve, but all year, they’ve kept (Zappe) clean for the most part. I just want to give credit to everyone else.”
However, Zappe said, his record-breaking season wouldn’t have happened without Sterns.
“We’ve been playing together for four years, just building and improving over the years together,” Zappe said of Sterns, who led the nation with 150 receptions for 1,902 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. “We’ve seen it come to fruition this year. Just grateful to have him on my side.”
The pair, who will soon begin their preparations for the upcoming NFL Draft, are nearly inseparable. In fact, it was Sterns who told Zappe at halftime of the Boca Raton Bowl that the quarterback had broken the NCAA’s single-season yardage mark during the first half.
“It means everything,” Sterns said. “It’s a lot more than football. We do everything together. I don’t think there’s a moment we’re not together.
“I think you can really see that on the field.”
That relationship certainly helped both players.
Sterns, a two-star prospect out of Waxahachie, Texas, ended up at Houston Baptist as an unheralded freshman. Zappe, likewise, wasn’t highly recruited before landing with the Huskies. Over the next three years, the two helped spearhead one of the most explosive offenses in the country.
When HBU offensive coordinator Zach Kittley was offered the same position with the Hilltoppers, Sterns and Zappe — along with a couple of other teammates and Sterns’ brother, Josh — hit the transfer portal to tag along.
“Without Coach Kittley, I don’t think me or Bailey would be here,” Sterns said. “We owe our careers to him, for sure. We just want to go out with a big bang for him. That’s what we did.”
Their time spent at WKU, however brief, was nothing short of extraordinary.
And now, even as Sterns turns his attention to the NFL, the Toppers will always hold a special place in his heart.
“I want to thank Hilltopper Nation for the genuine love and support and for taking me in as one of your own,” Sterns wrote in a Twitter post announcing his decision to turn pro. “In just one year Bowling Green has become another home to me.”