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FHSU offensive line a solid group

Published on -8/26/2012, 6:13 PM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University senior offensive lineman Hawk Rouse has long had a mustache.

Rouse, entering his fourth year as a starter and a returning second team all-MIAA selection, has looked up to great offensive linemen. Rouse discovered virtually all of them had mustaches, including Cincinnati Bengals' Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, considered the greatest lineman ever.

Rouse and the 2012 Fort Hays offensive line could carve out their own legacy this season. Rouse has the opportunity to become one of the top linemen in Tiger history, while the line could be FHSU's best since the school switched to the MIAA seven years ago.

Fort Hays opens the season Thursday at Emporia State University.

"Probably the strength of our whole team right now is our offensive line," second-year coach Chris Brown said. "They work well together, they are strong up front, they communicate well, they get along well."

Generally, because of the strength of the conference, first team all-MIAA linemen collect All-American honors. Even with the addition of five new football-playing teams, Rouse is arguably one of the league's top-five linemen entering the season. Only five linemen who earned first or second team all-MIAA honors last year, including Rouse, return.

While FHSU has produced five All-Americans since 2007, none have been on the offensive line.

In the Tigers' MIAA tenure, Wes Yarbough was the only lineman who was an all-region selection. Tyler Strong (2003) is FHSU's only All-American lineman since 1991.

"He is one of the strongest kids that I have ever seen just with his hand placements and his punches on the defensive line," Brown said of Rouse. "Against our defensive linemen, he is a very, very strong kid. He does a good job and vocal, he has really come around to really get these guys playing and it's more with the offensive line, getting them motivated and getting them going.

"He is a fun kid to be around, he is goofy as heck, and he makes you laugh and, he always has a smile on his face and he is always wanting to go to work and be the best he can be," Brown added.

The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Rouse, from Ardmore, Okla, has played in 30 career games with 27 career starts, most on the team. Senior Josh Reese, from McPherson, has played in every game of his Tiger career, a feat only matched among current Tigers by senior linebacker Layton Hickel. In 33 games, Reese has 23 starts at a variety of positions. He will start at left tackle this year.

"Both those guys, they are just fighters in there," offensive coordinator Justin Schreiber said. "They understand where they need to fit and they never give up on a play. I think that helps out all those guys up front. ... They see that and I think that they understand what it takes to get after it on every play and to establish themselves in this league. With those two guys leading you, you are going to have a lot of success up front."

As well, senior right tackle Logan Jones (6-7, 295) started all 11 games last season and enters his fourth year as a starter after he played for two seasons at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. Redshirt freshman Jarred Stindt (6-2, 285) will play center and redshirt freshman and Ellis native Matt Erbert (6-3, 330) will be at right guard. Stindt and Erbert, starters since the spring, are the youngest non-specialist starters for the Tigers.

"I said, 'You've got an opportunity to start your entire career, not a whole lot of people get to do that,' " Rouse said of Stindt and Erbert. "That's something to be really proud of."

When Rouse arrived at FHSU, he had never heard of pass protection called "pass pro," a common term. That first camp, Rouse suffered several head injuries from not sitting back in his stance. He played with many older guys who he respected and looked up to.

"Hoping not to frustrate them and hoping not to do the wrong thing," Rouse said.

After a redshirt year, Rouse started the fourth game of his freshman season. Reese, from McPherson, was a walk-on and redshirted as a freshman, too.

"He came in like weighing 225 soaking wet," Rouse said.

Reese played in 11 games as a freshmen, including three starts. For years, the coaching staff has wanted Reese to put on weight. This year, Reese gradually gained weight through the lifting program and eating right, including plenty of protein. Reese is now 6-foot-4, 270 pounds.

"The only way that he has been able to play undersized was because he was such a great technician," Rouse said. "If it wasn't for his speed, his technique and his tenacity, he wouldn't have played, but now he has got some size on him."

Last year, the offensive line helped the Tigers' pro-style offense average 4.7 yards per carry and rush for 189.2 yards, best in the program's MIAA tenure.

As well, FHSU averaged just 21 sacks on 269 pass attempts, an average of 7.81 sacks per 100 attempts. That was on par with 2009-10's offensive lines that averaged 7.28 and 7.57 sacks allowed per 100 attempts in the Tigers' pass-heavy, spread offense.

Second-year offensive line coach Justin Iske has instilled an aggressive mindset and Rouse has labeled the 2012 line "by far" the nastiest group in his career. With FHSU returning a bevy of skill players, including all-MIAA honorable mention senior running back Andre Smith, the Tigers' offense could be put up great numbers.

"I think a lot of teams are going to have trouble with our tenacity," Rouse said.

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