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Tigers work their way back

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

In his 12 seasons as a college coach, Chris Brown has dealt with several talented athletes who have had problems on and off the field. At Washburn University, Brown served as defensive coordinator for nine seasons. Defensive back Cary Williams was an All-American and currently starts for the Philadelphia Eagles. Williams was kicked out of Fordham University, and Washburn decided to take a chance on him. Williams realized the Ichabods were his last chance and turned his life around. Brown has seen others who now have good jobs or are successful in life after turnarounds.

"Kids need an opportunity," Brown said. "Maybe they haven't been brought up the right way or understand quite how things work, and you just have to teach them and let them know how things in this world work."

Now, Brown, in his third season as Fort Hays State University head coach, has seen three players in the last several weeks make big changes: senior punter Cameron Owens and junior defensive players and twins, Nathan and Daniel Lindsey.

"It's hard," Brown said at his weekly news conference Tuesday. "You just talk with the kids, speak with the kids, just kind of see where they are at, what their feelings are, and let them know, 'Hey, this is it. This is kind of your last stop. You don't do things well here, you may never play the game of football again. How much do you love football?' "

Owens struggled last season and briefly left the team. Owens has played well in 2013 after he has improved his strength and worked on all areas of his life. On Monday, Owens collected MIAA Special Teams Athlete of the Week honors, the first of his career and a rare time that a punter/kickoff specialist won the award.

"It's great to see a kid change from year to year," Brown said. "He had some ups and downs last year, struggled quite a bit, but he has really focused in this year. He is doing very well in class, very well on the football field, and he wants to be good."

Owens averaged 51.2 yards per punt on four punts -- three inside the 20-yard line. In addition, Owens averaged 57 yards on six kickoffs in a 31-17 FHSU win at Lindenwood (Mo.) University. Owens has averaged 43.3 yards per punt with 10 of 26 kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Last season, he averaged 38.2 yards a kick with 13 of 49 inside the 20.

Fort Hays (2-4, 1-4 MIAA) will play host to Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University (1-5, 1-4 MIAA) on Saturday afternoon at Lewis Field Stadium. Game time is 2:30 p.m.

"That's great to see him do those things, and his average is up there pretty high," Brown said. "He wants to be good and he wants to be successful and that's good to see out of a kid."

Daniel Lindsey started earlier in the season at cornerback and Nathan Lindsey started at bandit backer. Each player was key in the return game. Both Lindseys had a drug arrest just before the season started and then another one in Week 3. The coaching staff demoted the Lindseys down the depth chart, but the duo worked their way back.

"I am proud of those kids," Brown said. "Kids make mistakes and things happen. I hate to throw a kid out on the street. I want to give them a chance to make something of themselves and be somebody. They understand it now, and they are taking every advantage they can right now."

Last week, the brothers returned. Nathan Lindsey had four tackles, while Daniel Lindsey collected three tackles and a fumble recovery as backups.

"They are just so explosive," Brown said. "They just have got so much speed, so much athleticism."

Brown said the brothers would compete for their starting jobs this week and would likely see significant playing time. Sophomore cornerback Raheeme Dumas and freshman bandit backer Alex Schmidtberger had started in their place and expect to start again this weekend.

"They did everything they needed to do to get themselves back on this team and a part of this team," Brown said. "I am proud of those kids for doing what we asked them to do. They are a lot better than what they were."