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Tigers sign 31

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Coach Chris Brown set two goals when he came to the Fort Hays State University football program in December 2010. He wanted Kansas kids and mainly high school players. This recruiting period, Brown added another goal: plenty of skill players.

On Wednesday, Brown and his staff unveiled 31 players who signed National Letters of Intent on National Signing Day. FHSU has 13 Kansas signees, including several from the central, south central and western part of the state. The Tigers picked up four junior college players.

"We got a couple from Salina area and we got a couple from Wichita and that's good for us," Brown said in his Signing Day news conference. "We got a few more out of western Kansas, which is good for us as well. We have got a wide range of kids that we recruited from all over."

Just six players are listed exclusively as linemen. Six others, including Salina South's Justin Stonebraker, are free safeties or defensive backs.

The class includes two quarterbacks, two wide receivers, three running backs and six players listed at multiple positions. The Tigers graduated 13 seniors and lost two juniors from a 6-5 team last fall, the fourth straight season of a one-win improvement.

"I am proud of this class," Brown said. "I think we have got some very talented kids across the board offensively and defensively -- a lot of skill kids, which is something I thought we really needed just to really help with our special teams as well and get some depth on the defensive side of the ball.

"It's getting better," he added. "Next year's group will probably be a bunch of big guys, but right now, we need to get some skill guys that can run a little bit, get a little more speed on the football field."

On a national level, 6-foot-1, 200-pound defensive end/linebacker Tevin Evans and his teammate, 6-1,170-pound defensive back Aquil Knowles, came from Booker T. Washington, a Miami high school and the defending national champions. Evans was ranked as a 2-star recruit by 247Sports, a major recruiting service, with 125 tackles and eight sacks, while Knowles had 70 tackles and two sacks.

"Those kids are very, very talented," Brown said. "They were being recruited by some Division I schools as well, especially of late, but we were on them for so long that they felt comfortable with us and had a connection with us."

FHSU, like the rest of Kansas' four-year colleges, often competes against the junior colleges for recruits. Brown said each junior college offers the same package, tuition and books, to recruits. Brown said the Tigers can't match that offer with 36 scholarships for the entire Tiger team. This year, Brown said he had approximately seven scholarships for 18-20 scholarship players; the rest are walk-ons.

"Some are lower-end scholarships, and they get more from the junior college," Brown said. "A lot of them, they want to live the dream of going Division I."

The walk-ons include Osborne linebacker Maverick LeRock, Smith Center defensive end Cole Lorenzen and Kiowa County's Trever Powell. LeRock and Powell were standout eight-man players, while Lorenzen was a two-time all-Mid-Continent League selection. Brown also picked up running back/wideout Taylor Scott from Cheraw, Colo., the first six-man football player he has signed.

"You have got to have kids from this area," Brown said. "It's home to them. It's close. The people like them, the people support them. You've just got to get your community involved in as well. The more of those kids you have, the better off you are going to be in the long run."

Brown believes walk-ons can earn a scholarship in their careers "if they do the things that we ask."

"With not having very many scholarships, you can't miss very often," Brown said. "It's kind of a chess game each year on what you are doing. You've got to have good kids in your program like that who are going to be program kids that are going to develop."

In addition to Stonebraker, FHSU picked up free safety Cade Calvert from Salina South and Erin Gaither, an all-state quarterback from Wichita Northwest. Lineman Hunter Hewitt (Sterling) and linebacker Coby Lindsey (Coldwater) are from the surrounding areas.

"Wichita has always been a big place where we wanted to get some kids out of," Brown said. "There is a lot of talent in that area. Salina has got a lot of talent as well. We've got to keep that connection going. Getting a few kids out there this year is going to help us in the years to come."

The junior college ranks featured Kevin Spain, a Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College product, who redshirted last fall and was a 2-star prospect by ESPN in 2010.

Running back Derek Campbell, from Manhattan, headed to Hutchinson Community College first and was all-conference for the Blue Dragons last season. Colby Hamel, a Lakin graduate, played at Hutchinson and Garden City junior colleges and twice earned all-league honors. Brock Long, a standout football player and wrestler at Gypsum-Southeast of Saline, was a second team all-league selection for Hutchinson C.C. FHSU wanted all three Kansas kids out of high school and now signed them after junior college stints.

"You've just got to keep those relationships with those kids," Brown said.