By CONOR NICHOLL
Sophomore tight end Zack Gaughan and sophomore linebacker Justin McPhail have progressed through the Fort Hays State University program.
Gaughan, from Hays High School, redshirted his first season and played in all 11 games as a backup with one catch for four yards in 2012.
This year, Gaughan is the starting tight end and led the team with five catches for 69 yards and a score in a 54-17 road loss to Washburn University two weeks ago.
McPhail, from Liberal, played in all 11 games as a true freshman in 2012 and finished with nine tackles. He and kicker Drew O'Brien were the lone true freshmen to see significant playing time on a 5-6 team last fall.
This season, McPhail paces the Tigers with 26 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks for 0-3 FHSU.
McPhail led the Tigers with 14 tackles in a season-opening 43-13 loss to Emporia State University.
"Him and Zack Gaughan are perfect examples of guys that have been in the program for a few years who are starting to get a lot of playing time," third-year coach Chris Brown said. "It's because they understand the systems, and what they are doing. They improved tremendously and when you are in the system for awhile and you understand it, you become better, and they've both made themselves better."
On Saturday night, the Tigers travel to St. Joseph, Mo., to take on Missouri Western State University, the No. 6 ranked team in said NCAA Division II.
"I have had decent games, but I just want to win," McPhail, the younger brother of Tiger All-American javelin thrower Makayla McPhail. "That's what it comes down to. I don't really care how I do. I just want to win."
Gaughan and McPhail are among the few players on both sides of the ball who have played in more than eight career games for an inexperienced team.
"It's tough on everyone," Gaughan said of the slow start. "Obviously not just on guys who have been here like me. The new guys, we all took it pretty hard, because we all put in the work.
"We feel like we work hard," he added. "Things are not going well. We've just got to keep being resilient. We've just got to get better in times of adversity, coming together as a team."
McPhail's 14 stops is the single-game high for anyone currently on the Tigers.
"He is starting to understand the defense now," Brown said. "He played last year, didn't get a lot of reps, but played a few here and there. Now this year, he is getting most of the reps. It happens over time."