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Fresh start for Tigers

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

New field turf installed within the last 10 days. New indoor facility, one of the few in NCAA Division II. Even new workout shirts that read Fort Hays State University and have a big tiger claw in the middle of the fabric.

"It's a new beginning," senior running back Andre Smith said. "First team to step out onto this field and put in work, so we are going to put it to the best of our ability. It's so sweet to just come back and be a part of that. We've got great people to support us. They got us the stuff, so we are going to work for them."

The Tigers kicked off the 2013 season Monday morning with several significant differences at Lewis Field Stadium. Fort Hays, 5-6 last season, saw the indoor facility rise up through the offseason and spring ball.

The Tigers will open the year playing host to Emporia State University on Sept. 5.

"Our kids are really excited about the new indoor facility, the new turf on the field," third-year coach Chris Brown said. "It's just a great benefit to them and it shows that the community is behind them, the support they are getting from their boosters, and from the school itself. It makes them feel good, gives them a sense of pride. I saw them come out here with a sense of excitement and some enthusiasm.

"They love the field, they love the indoor. We really appreciate all those people that have given to us to help."

Fort Hays had 107 players for the first practice that started at 9 a.m., and ended shortly after noon.

The coaching staff stayed vocal throughout the session and continually pushed players through the small things.

"First day for me is tempo and effort," Brown said. "I want to see what their effort is like, how fast they are moving on the field and just see if the kid is confident or not is what we are looking for that first day, seeing if they are flying around and if the kid is going to hustle for us and work his tail for us."

Personnel-wise, FHSU had some big changes, especially in the backfield. Sophomore quarterback Treveon Albert is expected to be the starter, the first time in Brown's three years that a quarterback battle hasn't existed for all or most of camp.

"Right now, I feel like he is our man," said Brown, who is 9-13 in his Tiger career. "He knows the offense very well, he is a good leader, he is picking it up. Still a little gun-shy on a few things. I think here in the next week or so, he will really come around and be the guy that we are looking for. He has got great feet, he has got a great arm. He is really starting to be a great leader back there for us. You can tell that it's important to him. He wants to be good, he wants to be a team leader."

Junior college transfer Edin Kovac, a Bosnia native, recently came to Hays and is pushing Albert as the backup. Albert, who first came to the Tigers as a quarterback, was an all-purpose threat last season before he moved back under center in the spring.

"He is making me work harder and harder every single day," Albert said.

Albert, from Georgia, had planned to return to Hays after July 4.

However, he talked with coach, who told him Albert was going to have to lead or couldn't play quarterback. Albert returned early. He ran 7-on-7 workouts four days a week and 1-on-1s on Fridays.

"I don't like to lose," Albert said. "In this program, we need to get on board with every other program. We need to get a program going, so we can be one of the top dogs in the MIAA."

As well, Andre Smith and Edward Smith return at running back after they tallied more than 1,700 rushing yards two years ago. Last season, Andre (knee) and Edward (shoulder) took medical redshirts.

"It's great to step out there with my teammates again and be a part of something," Andre Smith said. "Sitting out last year was hard."

Shaquille Cooper, the team's leader in yards per carry and all-purpose yards last season, will not play this year because of academic issues.

Last season, Cooper led a bevy of players at running back, including Albert, Addie Brown and Shaun Ohlde. Brown also left the program and Ohlde graduated. Now, the backfield resembles more of a 2011 look with the Smiths leading the way.

"Shaq was a bad loss for us, but certain things just work out for itself, because three running backs, it's kind of hard to get everybody the ball the way that they wanted the ball and the stuff that they could do," Albert said. "I am mad that he is gone, but then again, it gets other guys more carries."