Being the signal caller for the first Fort Hays State University football team to gain NCAA Division II postseason victory, Tiger quarterback Jacob Mezera has put a little bit of extra pressure on himself entering his junior campaign.
But that’s only because he knows what the 2017 Tigers, the group he’s called the best offensive unit he’s worked with in his four years in Hays, are capable of.
And he intends to be the guy that draws out the best of his team’s ability.
“This is the best camp we’ve had as a unit since I’ve been here, and hopefully that carries over to the first game,” Mezera said Tuesday as the Tigers prepare for Thursday’s 7 p.m. season opener at Missouri Southern in Joplin, Mo. “It looks like everybody’s getting it.”
That confidence spreads like wildfire among the 2017 Tigers — especially on offense — and it exudes from the guy who last season became FHSU’s all-time leader in single-season passing percentage (63), and who led FHSU to its first bowl win. He aims to be better in his second full season.
“He knows his receivers a lot better than he did last year,” FHSU head coach Chris Brown said of Mezera. “I think he’s seeing blitzes better. He’s starting to see some things, and starting to know in situations who we need to go to.”
A big reason for the new knowledge is Mezera had a chance to learn the game a bit more as he was sidelined this spring after shoulder surgery just after the Heart of Texas Bowl win.
“It really stung not being out there with them, doing the little stuff,” Mezera said after Day 1 of camp. “We worked really hard this summer, and it showed out there today. I feel great.”
One of his targets, sophomore tight end Matt Wendelberger, noticed Mezera’s improvement right away.
“He came back better than he was,” Wendelberger said. “More physical, more mentally sharp, and the ball is out of his hands quicker and coming much faster.”
And that’s going to be key for Mezera. Among his own goals — getting sacked less, and getting rid of the ball.
“Just trying to get the ball to my guys and have them make plays. Just do my job and get them the ball, and we should be OK.”
As he looks to improve on his performance of 2,451 yards and 19 touchdowns from a season ago, Mezera will have a solid receiving group to choose from, he said. In addition to the return of sophomore Layne Bieberle and senior Tyler Bacon, the Tigers picked up junior transfer Monterio Burchfield (Garden City Community College). As well, Andrew Jay, a La Crosse sophomore, showed vast improvement during the offseason. Also, Harley Hazlett, an Abilene product by way of GCCC, could make an impact.
“Everyone has a particular skill set,” Mezera said of his receiving unit. “Bama (Burchfield) is a possession receiver. Layne’s really fast. He’s going to get out there, and Bacon is going to get open no matter what.
“It’s kind of great knowing the situation and knowing the guy I can go to.”