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FHSU Football: DBs looking strong

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Third-year coach Chris Brown named off his top defensive backs at the end of the first week of Fort Hays State University's fall camp. He mentioned junior Michael Jordan, who collected all-MIAA honorable mention honors after an 87-tackle season last fall. Brown named sophomore Raheeme Dumas, who played in nine games as a true freshman and returned an interception for a touchdown.

He also pointed out senior Stephen Marcotte, the most experienced Tiger, regardless of position, with 31 games played, and junior Zach Nash, who has played in 22 career games, but took a medical redshirt last season.

"I think our defensive back position is really, really strong," Brown said.

As well, FHSU has senior Andreas Ashwood, a third-year transfer from NCAA Division I University of Toledo, and the Lindsey twins, Nathan and Derek, who transferred from Eastern Arizona College.

"They are very good athletes," Ashwood said. "It's hard to tell the difference between them, but they are very talented and they are going to make a lot of plays for us this year."

Some positions, such as offensive and defensive lines, are dealing with major injuries to sophomore Matt Erbert and junior Tomasi Molesi, while others, including quarterback, are inexperienced.

But defensive back, along with running backs, are FHSU's two most experienced, accolade-laden position groups. The Tigers are set to open the season Sept. 5 at home against Emporia State University.

Last season, the Tigers made big strides under defensive coordinator Cooper Harris. FHSU improved from 4-7 to 5-6.

In conference play, Fort Hays allowed 36.8 points per game in 2011, and 29.5 last year. Overall, the Tigers allowed 34.7 in 2011 and 29.3 last season. With strength of schedule is factored in, Fort Hays finished as the No. 58-best defense in Division II, according to masseyratings.com. Now, the Tigers are in their third season of the 4-2-5 and second under Harris.

"All of those guys can play very well, and they have got a lot of speed and they know the defense very well and they are doing a great job for us," Brown said. "That is one position that I feel pretty solid at."

Ashwood, though, could make the position even stronger.

"I have worked very hard in the summer," he said. "I am just ready to go Sept. 5. I am just looking forward to it."

Ashwood and current starting quarterback Treveon Albert were the headliners of Brown's first recruiting class two and a half years ago. Ashwood missed the 2011 season because of academic issues.

Many athletes leave the program after missing a year because of grades, but Ashwood stayed around.

Last fall, he was slated to start, but tore his meniscus and played in 10 games with one start.

"Perseverance and my faith in Jesus Christ has allowed me to stick all through the turbulence," he said.

Now, Ashwood is healthy and expected to play a key role. Including his time at Toledo, Ashwood has played in 30 career games, but has just 35 career tackles, one interception and one punt return for 25 yards.

"He has got the size, he has got the speed," Brown said. "He is a strong kid, just with him, he has got to stay healthy, and he has got to find a way to keep himself healthy. That's taking care of your body and doing the things that you need to in the training room and after practice to making sure that you are ready to go on the field.

"We had a good talk, and he is buying into what we are doing, and loving what we are doing, and he is going to work hard and hopefully he pans out for us," Brown added.

Ashwood could help out on special teams, too. Before the team's first scrimmage, Ashwood asked Brown if he could return kicks. Ashwood had a long return in the scrimmage and is looking to work his way up the depth chart. Ashwood is well-aware the Tigers haven't had a kickoff/punt return in awhile. When told it's 2008, Ashwood smiled.

"I am trying to make it 2013," he said.