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Tigers set for spring game; running backs strong in spring

Published on -4/27/2012, 10:19 AM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Not only do Fort Hays State University running backs Andre and Edward Smith share a last name, they are similar in height and weight, running ability and production.

Senior Andre Smith is 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, while junior Edward Smith is 5-10 and 190 pounds. Second-year coach Chris Brown calls Andre Smith "a little more powerful" than Edward Smith, but past that, little separates the pair.

The good friends are speedy, powerful and explosive, a tandem that helped form one of the MIAA's top rushing attacks last fall. They've posted a strong spring with an improved offense.

"They are reading their keys, they are seeing the blocks and they are really finding their holes and they are doing a great job with it right now," Brown said.

On Saturday, the Tigers will have their annual spring game at Lewis Field Stadium. Start time is 10 a.m. The game is scheduled to last approximately 90 minutes.

Last year, Andre Smith, a transfer from Bakersfield (Calif.) College, rushed for 963 yards and five scores to earn all-MIAA honorable mention honors.

Edward Smith collected 748 yards and six scores. Andre Smith was fourth in the conference in rushing yards per game, while Edward Smith stood seventh.

"Back and forth, back and forth," Edward Smith, who has averaged 5.6 yards per carry on 151 carries in his Tiger career, said.

"Speed on speed every time. It's hard for people to stop that."

Only Northwest Missouri State University had two rushers with at least 740 yards. Coupled with junior Shaun Ohlde, scrambling senior quarterback Anthony Sheppard and a solid offensive line, the Tigers rushed for 189.2 yards and 4.7 yards a carry, the best marks since FHSU switched to the MIAA six years ago.

"They are very good backs," Brown said. "They are very, very competitive and when they get the ball in their hand, they can make good things happen."

In two scrimmages this spring, the running backs have averaged at least 5.4 yards per carry, according to statistics kept by the team.

Many offensive players, including senior guard John "Hawk" Rouse believe FHSU's offense is farther along this spring than it was last spring.

"There is a big confidence level," Andre Smith said. "As backs, we feed off each other and the linemen kept us up and we play off each other. We know what we are doing with our assignments. I feel like the confidence of our linemen is getting up. They have got a great coach in (Justin) Iske."

That included a solid performance last Saturday in the team's second scrimmage.

"Good job by the running backs, good job by the quarterbacks, everybody played well, line blocked well," Edward Smith said. "They came to the sideline and said we are running straight at them and we made it happen."

The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Ohlde, a Linn High School product, collected 40 rushing yards and a score on 18 carries in 2011.

Known for his hard running, Ohlde has impressed the Smiths and the coaching staff.

"Heart of a lion," Andre Smith said. "I've got a lot of respect for Ohlde. He is a great person. He plays hard every play. He can get in there and do the same stuff we do."

The only replacement in the backfield is at fullback, where 5-foot-11, 215-pound junior Jeremy Jones, a transfer from San Bernardino (Calif.) Community College, has taken over for the graduated Eric Jusko.

"Once he gets his steps down, he is going to be very good for us," Brown said. "Physical kid, strong kid and does some good things. Once he gets his footwork shored up, he is going to be great."

The offensive line, paced by veterans Rouse and seniors Josh Reese and Logan Jones have blocked well and improved, too.

"These guys up front are doing a heck of a job and our D-line is doing a heck of a job, too," Brown said. "I think up front we have gotten better - O-line and D-line - and that's what we really had to improve on from last year."

Quarterbacks expected to again split time

Sheppard and junior Tarean Austin, a transfer from NCAA Division I University of New Mexico, have split time all spring and Brown said the duo will continue to share snaps in the spring game.

"They are both fairly even," Brown said. "They are both doing a good job, working out with the 1s and 2s, and they are getting the same amount of reps and we will just keep evaluating them. It's good to have that competition at that spot because they are really pushing each other. They are pretty good friends, too, which is good as well."

The spring game will run similar to last year with a 15 to 20-minute running clock.

"We are going to make it pretty competitive and let some guys get after it and see what they can do," Brown said.

Extra points

Brown had his idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) return for the first time in 20 years last week, a condition where he has an abnormally low platelet count. Brown has improved and said Monday he doubled his platelet count, from 23 to 50: "Everything is going up, going in the right direction," he said. "That's good - everything is going real good right now."

Senior defensive lineman Odino Etienne (finger) and senior wide receiver Nelson Vazquez (knee) have missed most of spring practice because of injuries. Brown said neither one will participate in the spring game. Etienne collected eight tackles and a force fumble in eight contests last year, while Vazquez had two catches for 18 yards.

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