Tigers set to open camp
By NICK McQUEEN
After a 4-7 campaign in his first season at the helm in 2011, Fort Hays State University football coach Chris Brown has seen his Tiger team improve its mark each year.
The Tigers finished 5-6 in 2012, winning four games in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. Then after a rough 0-4 start last season against the upper-echelon of the conference, the Tigers rallied to win six of their final seven games to finish 6-5, the first time an FHSU team has been above .500 since 2009.
When the Tigers begin camp Monday, their fourth season under Brown, the coach sees this team "close" to taking that next step in the MIAA.
"Very excited for this upcoming season," Brown said at the MIAA's Media Day on Tuesday at Sporting Park in Kansas City. This year, the Media Day was streamed live online for the first time via the MIAA website.
"It's time to go. All of our guys have put the time and the effort in this summer," Brown said. "This is the most kids we've had (55 or 60) in the summer since I've been here. They're doing the things they need to do to become successful on the football field."
Camp kicks off at 9 a.m Monday with the team reporting today. The Tigers will host a meet and greet, and sign posters next Sunday, Aug. 17, at 1 p.m. at The Mall.
"They're ready to go," Brown said.
Having use of the new Schmidt-Bickle Indoor Training Facility was another draw, Brown said, for getting much of the team involved this summer.
"They're pretty fired up. Lot of momentum right now, we just need to keep that going on," Brown said.
FHSU, now up against a schedule that includes 11 other MIAA teams with no non-conference games, looks to take the next step and get out of the middle of the pack in the league. FHSU was picked eighth in the MIAA preseason coaches and media polls. Defending NCAA Division II Northwest Missouri State University -- part of last year's 0-4 Tiger start -- was picked to finish at the top in both polls.
"If you have a handful of plays go our way instead of the other team's, we might be 8-3, 7-4," said senior defensive lineman Jesse Trent, who recently was named to the USA College Football 2014 Division II All-America watch list, along with senior defensive back Micheal Jordan.
"That goes back to discipline, and doing the little things right. Having all those guys here this summer and putting in the time, and being more disciplined puts us in a position to do a ton better."
Including Trent and Jordan, the Tigers return nine starters on defense, and are senior-heavy on the D-line. FHSU returns five offensive starters, including senior wide receiver Ed Williams and junior quarterback Treveon Albert.
"We have a lot of guys coming back -- lot of young receivers and running backs, too," said Williams, the Tigers' second-leading receiver a year ago with 451 yards and seven TDs.
The incumbent QB, Albert (6-foot, 195 pounds) could face some pressure from newcomers Kevin Spain, a 6-2, 215 pound junior transfer from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College, or 6-3, 215-pound Bradley Schencker, a sophomore transfer from Mesa (Ariz.) Community College.
"Treveon is our No. 1 going into camp right now," Brown said. "We have guys pushing behind him. We've got four guys right now that are probably going to compete for that starting spot."
Albert, a converted running back/wide receiver, accounted for 2,845 yards, and was responsible for 31 touchdowns (24 passing). The 0-4 start, against top 25 teams, was rough.
"He was just trying to get his feet wet and understand what was going on," Brown said of Albert. "There were a lot of things coming at him. He kind of settled down a little bit after that, and started to mature. He's become more of a leader. This summer has been tremendous for him."
Also, senior Edward Smith, the only Tiger to play before Brown's arrival three seasons ago, returns after rushing for 438 yards on 74 carries as a junior. He led the Tigers with eight rushing touchdowns.
Defense has the most experience with Trent, Jordan, senior linebacker Michael Terry, junior linebacker Justin McPhail and sophomore defensive back DeAndre James all-MIAA selections a season ago. The Tigers also return junior kicker/punter Drew O'Brien. O'Brien was 5 of 12 on field goals and 51 of 53 on PAT attempts last season after leading the Tigers in scoring as a true freshman in 2012.
"Senior-laden across the board," said Trent. "We've finally been able to establish some depth. That's one of the stepping stones you've got to have to move forward in this conference.
"We're moving up," he added. "Now it's about putting it on the field. I think we're ready to make another step."
The season gets started at 7 p.m. Sept. 4 against University of Central Oklahoma at Lewis Field Stadium. Central Oklahoma was picked to finish 10th in the preseason coaches poll. The Tigers are at home five times with games against Lindenwood, Missouri Western, Northwest Missouri State and Missouri Southern.