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FHSU's Callins earns MIAA award

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Senior wide receiver Keaton Callins has delivered several spectacular catches for the Fort Hays State University football team this fall. Last Saturday, he delivered another dramatic play with a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown in the Tigers' 63-17 home victory against South Dakota School of Mines. It marked the Tigers' first special teams return for a score since C.J. Lovett did it in Week 4 of 2009.

Callins was asked what he enjoyed more, making a big catch or running back a punt. Callins thought about it for a second. The former high school quarterback had never returned a punt for a score before Saturday. The TD helped Callins earn MIAA Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

"Probably running back a punt," Callins said in the team's weekly news conference Wednesday night. "That's something that you don't see a lot, especially at Fort Hays."

On Saturday, Fort Hays (5-4, 3-4 MIAA) will travel to University of Central Missouri (5-4, 4-4 MIAA) for a 1:30 p.m. start in Warrensburg, Mo. The Mules have lost all four contests by 10 points or fewer and went 0-3 versus ranked teams. Fort Hays is 0-7 versus Central Missouri in the Tigers' MIAA era.

"They are a few points away from being a 7-2 team or even an 8-1 team right now," coach Chris Brown said. "We've got to be ready to be focused and be locked in. I tell them, 'Be confident, but let's not be cocky, and believe in your abilities and the things that you are doing, and let's just get better each week.' "

Brown, 14-17 in his career, said several wins have stood out, including his inaugural victory against Emporia State University, a 2011 win versus Missouri Southern State University, a comeback road victory versus University of Nebraska-Kearney to close out 2012 and a road win against Lindenwood (Mo.) University in the Week 6 of this year. But Saturday represents a chance at a marquee victory.

"It would be a huge win for this program, especially against a team like Central, whose record doesn't show how good they really are," Callins said. "It's going to be a hostile environment. It's going to be their last game, their Senior Day. We've just got to go in there and be confident."

Callins, who leads the Tigers with 42 catches for 515 yards and seven scores, has enjoyed the best year of his career. Three years ago, he developed close friendships with then-senior wideouts O.J. Murdock, Cordarol Scales, senior running back James Walker and defensive back Wayne Shepheard. Callins still remains in close contact with Scales, who spent time in the Jets training camp and is training in California. Plus, wideout coach Al McCray has helped Callins.

"Just pushing me and pushing me," Callins said.

Last Saturday, he caught a 20-yard TD on an impressive play. Sophomore quarterback Treveon Albert went to his right and motioned to Callins to go behind the defense before he lofted a pass.

"It was just a breakdown in protection, so I just got out of the pocket," Albert said. "Keaton saw it late, safety came down, just ran past him for a touchdown."

Around campus

Junior defensive lineman Tomasi Molesi has seen a difference around campus since the Tigers have won five straight after an 0-4 start. Molesi said his psychology teacher said that if the Tigers win Saturday, the class will have pizza Tuesday.

"Teachers, they show us love now," Molesi said.

More like a family

Senior lineman Jeremy Jones said the Tigers were a family in the spring and summer, but they weren't "a tight family." After the Tigers lost the first four games, the team changed.

"We started listening to the coaches, they said, 'We've got to buy in,' and we have got to start playing together," Jones said. "...We play together now. We are like one now."