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Top stories 2013 -- Despite rough start, Tigers finish 6-5

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Coach Chris Brown had started three quarterbacks in the last two years as the Fort Hays State University football team went 4-7 and 5-6 and received average, at best, play from the signal callers. This fall, sophomore quarterback Treveon Albert took over in his first year as the starter. In the first two games, Albert threw six interceptions and FHSU started 0-2 with two big losses. Backup Edin Kovac had played well in spot duty.

But Brown stuck with Albert -- and the move paid off.

"Right now, you have got to go with Treveon," Brown said. "We have been through this before where we have a quarterback here and another quarterback there. I am honestly tired of doing it. I am going to stick with a guy and go with a guy and see if he can get the job done, let him build and get better as a quarterback."

In Week 3, FHSU lost at home to eventual NCAA Division II national champion Northwest Missouri State University, but the Tigers put up nearly 400 yards of total offense. Albert gained confidence.

After a Week 4 loss, the Tigers were 0-4 against four top-25 teams. Then, Fort Hays went 6-1 down the stretch, finished 6-5 for the first winning season since 2009 and tied for the program's best record since the mid-90s. The Tiger turnaround is one of The Hays Daily News' Top Stories for 2013. FHSU has improved by one win in each of the last four years and gone 4-7, 5-6 and 6-5 in Brown's three seasons.

SDLqCould have said, 'We are done, season's over. We are not going to win a ball game,' Brown said in his season-ending news conference. "But this group of kids believed in each other, had faith, worked even harder after those four losses to get wins, and they were hungry, and it goes to our seniors. They are great leaders. They wanted to win."

Albert didn't earn all-MIAA honors, but he was the main reason for FHSU's play and some offensive school records. In Week 9, the Tigers defeated South Dakota School of Mines, 63-17 and set a school mark for points in a single game. FHSU scored 384 points, second-best all-time. Sophomore kicker Drew O'Brien broke a school mark (single season) with 51 extra points.

"He is still learning, he is still maturing, he is still growing, and he is starting to figure out what our offensive scheme is and really learn how to read the defense," Brown said. "That's huge. He is getting guys lined up where they need to get lined up. He is understanding what we need to get done and understanding the situations now."

Albert threw for 2,338 yards and 24 scores against 10 interceptions, while senior running back Andre Smith rushed for 1,013 yards. Senior Keaton Callins enjoyed one of the best seasons in school annals for a wideout with 53 catches for 756 yards and 11 scores.

"Fort Hays is going to keep growing and growing and be one of the elite teams," Callins said.

Albert ranked 45th in NCAA Division II in total offense with 2,845 yards. Among sophomores, he ranked 11th. Albert was also responsible for 31 scores, including 24 passing, and tied for 21st in the country, tied fifth for sophomores.

"We finally had some explosive plays this year, and that's something that I didn't see our first two years," Brown said.

Senior right tackle Mario Abundez and junior safety Micheal Jordan led the way with second team all-conference selections. Fort Hays nearly won seven straight contests, but lost a 27-0 lead on the road at University of Central Missouri in Week 10.

"They worked hard through the summer, and they worked hard through spring practices and they worked hard through fall camp and really bounced back from an 0-4," Brown said.