Entering his seventh season at the helm of the Fort Hays State University football program, two things have been consistent for Tiger head coach Chris Brown.
First, FHSU has improved in each of the previous six seasons, a climb that culminated in last season’s appearance and victory over Eastern New Mexico in the Heart of Texas Bowl, the Tigers’ first postseason win in NCAA Division II.
Perhaps leading up to that success is the coach also has seen a consistent increase each offseason in the numbers and participation in summer workouts.
It’s all led to what Brown called “the best first day since I’ve been here” when FHSU opened 2017 fall camp Monday afternoon at Lewis Field Stadium.
Tiger junior quarterback Jacob Mezera agreed. Fresh off his shoulder surgery following last season’s bowl victory, Mezera is back as the focal point of FHSU’s offense as the program looks to take another step in the ever-powerful MIAA. FHSU was predicted to finish fifth in the conference when the preseason coaches and media polls were released last week.
“That was probably the best first day I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Mezera echoed as the team broke the Day 1 huddle. “It was a lot of fun. Everyone was a little anxious at first.”
Approximately 125 guys showed up for the opening practice with possibly a half dozen more expected once school begins next week. The Tigers jumped right into warm-ups and drills on an unseasonably mild August afternoon.
“You could tell the work the guys put in this summer has really paid off,” Brown said. “In years past, you come out here and it looks like you’re starting all over again with your kids.”
That wasn’t the case Monday, especially for those returning from last year’s 8-4 club.
“The weather wasn’t too bad, we’re thankful for that,” said senior defensive lineman Nathan Shepherd. “Great to have this many guys. We’re ready for some pads.”
The Tigers will be without full pads until the end of the week, but the first week of camp will end Saturday with the first scrimmage of the fall.
From a fundamental and routine aspect, Brown said, the Tigers are well ahead of where they have been in the past. Things flowed smoothly on Day 1, though he admitted once the Tigers start diving deeper into their arsenal, things might get a little more dicey.
“It’s crisper. The kids are having fun and enjoying it,” Brown said. “They knew exactly what they were doing, and that’s huge when you start camp.”
That should help FHSU become more fine-tuned in the first few weeks in preparation for the Aug. 31 opener at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Mo.
“Just getting good at what we do,” said Mezera, who started all 11 games a year ago, completing 215 of 341 passes for 19 touchdowns and six interceptions. “We’re not ready for the first game or anything, but just seeing what we’re good at as a team and a unit.
“Once we figure that out, we’ll adjust and make some changes from there.”