Ashwood gets second chance with Tigers
Published on -4/30/2012, 10:18 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
Last Monday, the Fort Hays State University wide receivers and defensive backs engaged in a one-on-one drill at one end of Lewis Field Stadium. Wide receivers coach and ace recruiter Al McCray ran the drill and provided constant energy, motivation and some loud trash talking in between passes. The players did the same, depending on whether the wide receiver or defensive back made the play.
Junior defensive back Andreas Ashwood participated in the drill with several plays -- and plenty of back and forth with his teammates. It's a drill Ashwood remembers vividly when he played high school football at Hillsborough (Fla.) and had McCray as his coach sophomore year.
"It just brings back memories," he said. "...Awesome experience just having him here with us. He knows my father personally. The only bad thing is that he gives me a lot of (static). But it's all in fun."
Several years later, McCray and Fort Hays now represent a second chance for Ashwood, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound talented cornerback who has encountered several obstacles before and during his time at FHSU. Ashwood played in 20 games with two starts at NCAA Division I University of Toledo (Ohio). Then, Ashwood was kicked off the team for what he called "one thing here, another thing there," events that are now "in the past."
He is now part of a strong group of defensive backs that includes junior Sherod Murdock -- another Florida product who McCray coached in high school and is now starting in his second chance for the Tigers -- and senior Keke Paul, a returning all-MIAA honorable mention selection. On Saturday, Ashwood played in Fort Hays' annual spring game at Lewis Field Stadium.
"You are worried at first," second-year coach Chris Brown said of giving a player another opportunity. "You are happy they have grown up and straightened up and done things the right way. You bring them in and talk to them and give them your expectations and tell them that if you don't meet those expectations, then we are going to let you go. It's pretty cut and dried on what they can and can't do."
"Those two kids (Ashwood and Murdock) have come in and done a good job and done everything that we have asked them to do," he added. "Haven't had any trouble. They work hard and they are competitive. They've got great attitudes here. Love them to death. They are like my own kids."
McCray has brought multiple Florida natives and former Division I prospects with troubled pasts to Hays and made them strong football players and better people. That includes wideout O.J. Murdock, a 2010 Tiger All-American, and his brother, Sherod, who spent the first part of his career at the University of Pittsburgh before found a new home with the Tigers.
Sherod Murdock is one of FHSU's vocal leaders after he had 38 tackles, five tackles for loss and two interceptions last fall. Ashwood is another McCray recruit. He calls Fort Hays "a blessing" and a "neat experience."
"This is my second chance -- and my last chance," Ashwood said. "I am going to make the most of it. I am very grateful for Al giving me the opportunity to have a second chance and I am grateful for Coach Brown for taking me on."
Yet Ashwood couldn't play last year because he had academic trouble. Ashwood said he failed one class and couldn't play.
"It was so hard, because all I had to do was go to class," he said. "I missed a couple days here and there and that couple days transferred to a whole season of me not playing on the field."
While some transfers would leave if they couldn't play, Ashwood stayed in Hays because of McCray and the other Tampa players on the Tigers. He has improved in the classroom this year and will take some summer classes to give him "some cushion." Ashwood is expected to be eligible in the fall.
"I really think it was Coach Al and a lot of hometown people, because we have about four people from Tampa here and I have never been a quitter, so if I would have not been able to play and then just quit, where would I be now?," Ashwood said. "I have got too much pride just to quit. I want to play for my brothers. I want to play for Al. I want to play for Brown. I want to play for the people of Hays, the people that I go to school with, so that's why I stayed."