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Smiths back on field for Tigers

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University running backs Andre and Edward Smith have always been close since Andre came to the Tiger program before the 2011 season. That fall, Andre rushed for 963 yards and five scores and Edward tacked on 748 yards and six TDs. However, the two have grown even closer in the last year. In 2012, Andre Smith played in one game with three carries for five yards. His season ended in Week 1 with a medial collateral ligament injury.

"Pretty much nothing," Andre said. "That's tough to go down like that."

The next week, Edward saw his season conclude with a shoulder injury. He finished with 18 carries for 43 yards in two games.

They watched the Tigers cycle through multiple running backs for a 5-6 team. Six players had between 45 and 95 carries. No one rushed for more than 422 yards.

"All I could do was really sit back and cheer them on," Andre Smith said.

Now, Andre, a senior, and Edward, a junior, are back on the field and healthy.

"Sitting out and not being able to help the team brought us down to a level - being humble, because we could be taken out," Andre Smith

said. "Every time we step onto that field, we have got to go 100 miles an hour."

Andre is expected to be the starting running back and Edward will play a variety of roles in the Tigers' new-look read-option offense.

"We hang together, we come out here together, we talk out here," Edward said. "We do everything together basically. He is like a big brother to me honestly. He just makes me go harder, because he go hard every play. It makes me, when I get in there, I am like, 'I have to go hard, because if I don't, then he is going to get on me about it,' honestly.' "

The 2013 team had five of its top six rushers from 2012 leave the program or graduate. The fifth-leading rusher, Treveon Albert, is now the starting quarterback.

Edward called the Tigers "Treveon's team."

"I wish (Albert) is a little bit farther along than he is right now," third-year coach Chris Brown said. "He is doing pretty good with his reads. He just needs to become more consistent for us right now. Sometimes he loses a little bit of focus here and there, but he is still doing a great job.

"Just got to lock him back in, and get him focused. When he is focused and ready to go, he does a great job for us."

The biggest loss was Shaquille Cooper, who collected 356 yards on 47 carries after he moved to running back in midseason. Cooper played well in the spring, but will miss the season because of academic issues. Edward Smith, who played on the same football team in Tampa for many years with Cooper, called Cooper's loss "a big shock."

"To not have him back right now is a big loss," Edward Smith said. "We are going to continue to get better and hope he gets better, too, with what he is doing."

Offensively, the Tigers have run a pro-style look the last two years.

In 2011, Fort Hays finished 4-7, but collected 189.2 rushing yards and 4.7 yards per carry, still the best since the team switched to the MIAA eight years ago. Andre Smith broke an 83-yard run en route to all-MIAA honorable mention honors and Edward Smith had a 74-yard run.

Last season, the variety of running backs rushed for 174.2 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry.

Without the Smiths, the team had no rush longer than 67 yards.

Overall, the Tigers had some trouble with big offensive plays. FHSU averaged 5.1 yards per play, worst for the program since 2008.

This year, Fort Hays is expected to spread the field more and run Edward Smith in a variety of plays. In addition to the Smiths and Albert, Fort Hays also has speedy redshirt freshman running back Kenneth Iheme - who made a nice run in Wednesday's practice - and some big-play wideouts, including Ed Williams. As well, senior Keaton Callins, a veteran of 20 career games, hauled in two long TDs, including one where he outjumped defensive back Raheeme Dumas and then raced in for a score.

"We have got to use that speed to our advantage, so we are going to do whatever we can do to attack a defense and use those guys to our advantage and hopefully get some big plays out of it," Brown said.

In the first practice Monday, Edward started in the slot on the right side of the field. After the snap, he ran around in the backfield and Albert tossed him an option pitch in mid-stride. Smith raced down the left side for a big gain.

"That's a new play that we have," Edward said. "That's one of the plays that we entered in the option offense. I feel great. I am ready to play. I feel like I haven't played in a long time. I am ready to get out there. To be out here with my teammates, to be out here with my coaches, it's great."