The Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association coaches and media members were on same page, ranking eight of the league’s 12 teams in the same spot when the polls were unveiled at Tuesday’s media day at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.
Both polls had Fort Hays State University slotted fifth behind defending national champion Northwest Missouri State, Emporia State, Central Missouri and Pittsburg State, respectively.
Washburn was slotted just behind the Tigers, as the polls had identical top sixes.
The goal for seventh-year coach Chris Brown’s team is another step of progress.
“Hopefully this is the year these guys break out and get the school record for wins and get to the playoffs,” Brown said during the Tigers’ turn at the table.
The Tigers are coming off their second consecutive 8-4 season, a year which they won the program’s first postseason game at the Division II level.
The experience of beating Eastern New Mexico 45-12 in the Heart of Texas Bowl has one of the Tigers’ top returners on defense hungry for more.
“Once you get a taste of success, you just want more and more,” junior bandit Doyin Jibowu said. “It’s addicting.”
The desire for more success has shown itself in offseason workouts, according to Brown. The Tiger coach head from strength and conditioning coach Doug Boucher that roughly 75 players are in the weight room and participating in 7-on-7 drills initiated by the players.
“Our kids are doing the things they need to do,” Brown said.
Joining Brown and Jibowu at media day was junior quarterback Jacob Mezera. Mezera had shoulder surgery in the offseason but figures to be a full-go for fall camp.
While the Tigers lost one of the more dynamic players in the league in running back Shaquille Cooper, Mezera has other top options returning. Senior running back Kenneth Iheme looks to be the top back alongside Charles Tigner, who did a little bit of everything as a redshirt freshman. Layne Bieberle looks to be the top receiving target after a breakout freshman season and should get help from Tyler Bacon in the slot.
J.J. Lewis is back at tight end with Travis Talley, Donald Blackmon and Pat Kelley returning with experience on the offensive line.
“I’m excited to see what we can do,” Mezera said. “We’ve got a great group of receivers back.”
The defense will have to replace Sie Doe Jr., the conference’s defensive player of the year after he set the program’s single-season record for sacks in 2017.
Nathan Shepherd returns for his senior season on the defensive line with Jose Delgado leading the linebackers.
The Tigers lost starting cornerbacks Raheeme Dumas and Rashad Dunnigan but returns Tanner Hoekman, Connor Shedeed and Jibowu elsewhere in the secondary.
“I’m surrounded by talent,” Jibowu said.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys that are going to make plays, and I’m excited to see what they can do for us.”
The Tigers are set to open the 2017 season on the road, traveling to Missouri Southern for the season-opener on Aug. 31. The home opener is the following Thursday against Central Missouri.