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Game time for Tiger football team

9/3/2014

By NICK McQUEEN

nmcqueen@dailynews.net

For nearly three weeks, members of the Fort Hays State University football team have spent time in practice, going to class, meeting with fans, taking pictures and talking with the local and regional media.

If anything was clear in the Tigers' weekly news conference Tuesday, this team is tired of talking about getting things started. They're ready to translate that talk into action on the field.

Just a little more than 24 hours away, they'll get their chance. The season opener is 7 p.m. Thursday at Lewis Field Stadium against the University of Central Oklahoma.

"That's what we're waiting on, getting another shot," Tiger junior quarterback Treveon Albert said Tuesday. "We ended last season on a good little roll there. It's time to pick it back up and keep it going."

The Tigers are coming off a season where they started 0-4, but rallied to win six of their final seven, finishing their first winning season under fourth-year coach Chris Brown. It was the Tigers' first winning campaign since 2009.

"The kids have prepared themselves pretty well through this summer and through fall camp,"  said Brown, who is 15-18 in three seasons. "Just their attitudes, the way they're attacking each practice, each lift, each individual drill."

The Tigers, picked eighth in the MIAA preseason coaches' poll face a UCO team coming off a 2-8 mark from 2013 where they tied for 13th in the MIAA. The Bronchos were picked 10th by the coaches in the preseason.

"They're a very good football team," Brown said of UCO. "They're going to be coached very well. They're going to have some depth at a lot of positions."

Of course, each team has a few wrinkles thrown in the offseason. The Bronchos return 16 starters off a team that scored 30 points per game, but gave up 50 per game. Most notable is wide receiver Marquez Clark, who caught 82 passes for 1,348 yards and five TDs.

"It's Game 1, so you never know what you're going to get from them offensively," Brown said. "We have a pretty good idea. It's always that first game where you're not quite sure how it's going to be."

The Tigers return six starters returning on offense and nine on defense. The defensive side is something the Tigers feel confident in early on. And, it's a defense that is ready to test itself against someone else on the field.

"That's definitely a plus," said junior linebacker Justin McPhail. "I'm tired of beating up on my own teammates. I'm ready to just go out there and get that first game underway."

The Tigers will go with Albert, the incumbent starter at quarterback. Albert rebounded after a rough start last season to pass for 2,338 yards and 24 TDs, and had 507 rushing yards and seven scores. Senior running back Edward Smith, a fifth-year Tiger, looks to take over running back duties full time.

"The MIAA is a hard conference," Smith said. "I just know we are going to give 110 percent everything we do from the get go to to the end of the fourth quarter.

"And it's very important that we go out there and win the game."

With 12 teams now in the MIAA with football, each program now will play 11 conference games, with no non-conference games scheduled. FHSU doesn't play a team that finished in the top half of the MIAA last year, until Week 4 when it travels to perennial powerhouse Pittsburg State University. FHSU's first three opponents were tied for 13th and 10th in the conference last season.

"Every week you have to come ready to play," McPhail said. "Everyone in the MIAA is solid. Every single week, you have to be ready to play. We'll have to be really consistent with that schedule change."