Jerreth Sterns knew he was taking a big risk.
When Zach Kittley, Sterns’ offensive coordinator at Houston Baptist University, was hired for that same role at Western Kentucky in December 2020, Sterns entered the NCAA transfer portal along with three of his teammates: his brother and fellow wide receiver Josh Sterns, wide receiver Ben Ratzlaff, and quarterback Bailey Zappe.
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They were coming off just four games in the pandemic-shortened 2020 college football season, but had made HBU one of the best offenses in the Football Championship Subdivision. The trio of wide receivers hauled in 89 receptions for 1,256 yards and 12 touchdowns in those four games. Jerreth alone set numerous records while at HBU, tallying 220 receptions for 1,971 yards and 18 touchdowns in 27 career games over three seasons for the Huskies.
So he was hopeful that he and his teammates could follow Kittley and play for WKU, but there was no guarantee things would work out for all of them moving from an FCS school to an FBS school. Yet in the end, all four successfully transferred to play for the Hilltoppers, and they’ve picked up right where they left off, especially Jerreth. They have WKU playing in the Conference USA championship game for the first time since 2016. WKU will face the University of Texas at San Antonio (11-1) on Friday at 7 p.m. ET.
WE’LL SEE YA FRIDAY NIGHT IN SAN ANTONE!! 🤩#GoTops | #ChampionsClimbHere pic.twitter.com/mAjg8CQvhM
— WKU Football (@WKUFootball) November 28, 2021
“When we entered the transfer portal, we trusted God and knew He had a bigger plan,” Jerreth, a junior, told Sports Spectrum. “It was a huge risk, possibly not getting a scholarship offer somewhere else or maybe having to split up from my brother. Even with the given risk, we trusted God and took a leap of faith.
“To this day I would say this move is one of, if not the best, decision I made in my life. It’s a blessing that I will never take for granted.”
After starting the season 1-4, WKU has won seven straight games to finish the regular season 8-4, and the Hilltoppers clinched the Conference USA East Division title with a 52-21 win over Marshall this past Saturday. Sterns is a big reason for that turnaround. Heading into Friday’s championship game, Sterns ranks first nationally in receptions (127), second in receiving yards (1,539), and tied for fifth in touchdowns (12).
He earned mid-season All-American honors from the Associated Press and was named a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award and the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award. He was also named Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week on Oct. 16.
Behind Sterns and Zappe, WKU ranks first in the country in passing yards (5,073) and second in total offense (6,301 yards), trailing only Ohio State.
📊 𝙍𝙀𝘾𝙊𝙍𝘿 𝘾𝙃𝘼𝙎𝙄𝙉𝙂 📊
123 receptions in a single season puts @jerrethsterns in 18th all-time in FBS, ahead of:
2011 Justin Blackmon (122)
2007 Jordy Nelson (122)
2020 DeVonta Smith (117)
2018 Rondale Moore (114)
2013 Jordan Matthews (112)
2019 Justin Jefferson (111) https://t.co/e0Xi6XJwMd
— WKU Stats & Info (@WKUStatsInfo) November 21, 2021
Through all the success, Sterns remains grounded in his faith in God and said he starts every day by reading his Bible app. He credits his upbringing, and he said he and his brother, Josh, often spend time talking about God, their faith and the afterlife.
Jerreth frequently uses his social media to share his faith as well.
“My mother and father did a great job leading us in our walks with Christ,” he said. “My mother made it known that every day was a blessing and without Jesus none of this is possible.”
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Prior to college, Jerreth was a star at Waxahachie (Texas) High School, where he played for former NFL quarterback Jon Kitna, who was critical to Jerreth’s football journey as well as his walk with Jesus.
“He’s a great leader in Christ and did a great job teaching us about what it means to be a follower of Christ,” Sterns said. “He set a great example and I’ll never forget how he treated his wife, kids and everyone around him.”
Now, Sterns and the Hilltoppers will take their high-powered attack to San Antonio to face UTSA, which was unbeaten and ranked in the top 25 until a loss to North Texas last weekend. WKU lost 52-46 to UTSA on October 9.
Despite his impressive statistics, Jerreth was left off the list of finalists for the Biletnikoff and several other awards, as was Zappe despite leading the country in passing yards (4,941) and touchdowns (52). That could be a motivator for them on Friday, but Sterns said bringing home a conference championship trophy and a bowl game win are the ultimate goal.
“As nice as it would’ve been to get the national recognition we deserve, that was never our goal,” he said. “[Zappe] and I have always been working to help get our team in the position that we are currently in. It would be a huge blessing if this team was able to bring home the trophy to Bowling Green and reap the benefits of everything we put into it this offseason.”
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