Knowing it’s his final season with the Fort Hays State University football team, Kenneth Iheme has taken it upon himself to enjoy more of the little things along the way.
From the film room, to practice, to weights, he’s soaking everything in. He’s also spent a little time thinking about the opportunity in front of him.
A consistent and solid performer who missed the 2015 season due to injury, Iheme looks for his chance to shine in the Tigers’ backfield as he steps into the starting role left open by Shaquille Cooper. But the potential added workload hasn’t taken away from Iheme’s expectations — only added to it.
“This season, I’m just trying to enjoy it a lot more, just knowing it’s my last season at Fort Hays,” Iheme said. “Just enjoying the moments, being around my teammates more, and enjoying being in practice.
“This is going to be my last first game,” Iheme added, alluding to the Tigers’ 7 p.m. Thursday opener at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Mo.
The Tigers are hoping that means Iheme has saved his best for last.
The Wichita Heights High School product played sparingly in 2013 after a redshirt season in 2012, then appeared in 10 games as a backup in 2014, collecting 557 yards.
Then after getting injured in the first game of 2015, he sat out a year to watch, only to become the backup in 2016 behind Cooper.
Still, as a backup, the 5-foot-8, 180-pounder earned all-MIAA third-team honors, gaining 526 yards (5.0 average), and catching 24 passes for 176 yards. He had four total touchdowns (three receiving).
“Just really making sure I am completely fully prepared,” Iheme said as he takes the starting role. “I know I have to step up big time. I know that my teammates are counting on me.”
It also helps that a guy like Charles Tigner — back at running back after spending time as a utility receiver/back a year ago — is right behind him. Tigner showcased his ability mostly as a pass-catcher a season ago, collecting 453 receiving yards with four touchdowns. He also had 178 rushing yards.
The duo — along with a host of newcomers — will run behind an offensive line that averages just less than 300 pounds. And, Iheme said, it’s one of the deepest and biggest O-line’s he’s seen in his time.
“We have very talented kids on our offensive line,” said senior tackle Travis Talley, a Colorado Springs product. “Coach Bryant and I have talked about how nice it is to have a full unit of 2s and a full unit of 3s — guys that can play.”
Iheme and company are hoping that will lead to some freshness and opening up big holes.
“One thing they really didn’t have was depth,” Iheme said. “We have a lot of depth, a lot of size. I know I’m excited about it, and I know (quarterback Jacob Mezera) is excited about it.”