Tigers start prep for Bearcats
By NICK McQUEEN
Garrison Hendricks has all but accepted the fact he likely won't put up any flashy numbers on an offense with numerous weapons.
But the senior on the Fort Hays State University football team doesn't seem overly concerned with making the big play.
He just wants to make the right play.
In a conference where one little mistake can prove costly any given week -- and the Tigers have proved that numerous times in their 4-3 start -- Hendricks' sure-handedness and decision-making as FHSU's punt returner has proven a solid asset.
"I take pride in that. Catching the ball is what they want, and that's my main goal when I'm out there."
Hendricks does have 12 punt returns this season for a total of 78 yards (6.5 average), and has caught four passes for 69 yards.
Last week in the Tigers' 24-21 win against Emporia State University on the road, Hendricks' 14-yard return to near midfield helped set up junior Treveon Albert's 52-yard scoring connection to junior tight end Zack Gaughan. The return was 4 yards shy of Hendricks' longest return this season, and his only return on three ESU punts.
It's not that Hendricks, at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, doesn't have the ability to bust a long run if it's there, but when mistakes have proven costly, he's more concerned about that one or two seconds after the ball is kicked when he has to make the choice.
"If I have to fair catch it, I fair catch it," he said. "I don't have a lot of return yards this year. My main objective, though, just catch the ball."
The former eight-man quarterback at South Gray High School in Montezuma, Hendricks came to FHSU via Dodge City Community College. In an offense that features the big play ability of senior Ed Williams and sophomores Isaiah Maxi and Bilal Salat, Hendricks has made the most of his limited opportunities.
His 16-yard reception to the Emporia State 14-yard line Saturday helped FHSU set up its third touchdown of the first quarter as it jumped out to a 21-0 lead.
"Lately, I've been in some 10-personell, four wide receivers," Hendricks said. "Just trying to do my role when I'm out there, just catch the ball. Hopefully I get some more playing time."
After that 21-0 lead, some of those Tiger mistakes started kicking in, something FHSU fourth-year head coach Chris Brown has talked about often this season, but was pleased with the best start his team has had.
"It was a good start for us. We played very well defensively, and offensively we got some big plays, which we've been looking for all year," Brown said Tuesday in his weekly news conference.
"After that first quarter, we started shooting ourselves in the foot. A bad snap, holding penalties, a false start. Just little things like that. Those are things we have to eliminate to continue to win, and get better."
That will be the focus this week in practice, especially with MIAA juggernaut, defending NCAA Division II champion, and former No. 1 ranked Northwest Missouri State University (now No. 10) in town Saturday.
"Just wish we could finish like we started," Brown said.
Despite the rough finish, though, a 40-yard field goal by junior Drew O'Brien was enough to stave off the Hornets as FHSU snapped its two game skid after a 3-1 start, and set up this week's showdown with the Bearcats, who are coming off a rare home loss last week to Pittsburg State University, the same team the Tigers beat three weeks ago on the road, 7-6. Pitt State won at Northwest in the Bearcats' homecoming, 35-17.
The Tigers' focus is just on putting a complete game together, with as few errors as possible against the perennial powerhouse.
"I can't figure out why we just can't continue to play well for four quarters," Brown said. "That's something we stress every day. As players, there has to be a time in the season you step up and figure it out yourselves. These guys need to step up and figure it out."
Outside of the bad snaps, which Brown said is a cadence issue with the center (two different ones Saturday) and Albert, and a few penalties, the Tiger offense produced one of its better games. Due, in part, to the better play of Albert. He finished 14 of 29 for 235 yards and two touchdowns (Gaughan and Williams), but did have two picks.
"He looked better than he has all (year) last week," Brown said of Albert. "He did a better job of seeing receivers. Still a few dropped balls that we shouldn't have and one bad interception, the other was tipped. He's starting to feel comfortable again in the pocket, and getting himself out too."