Young players filling roles for FHSU
By CONOR NICHOLL
Coach Chris Brown knows he needs young players in key roles for his Fort Hays State University football team. Brown has played multiple true freshman, especially wide receivers Isaiah Maxi and Bilal Salat. On defense, redshirt freshman Alex Schmidtberger has played well at bandit backer. The young group has helped offset an inexperienced team that returned just one all-MIAA player from last season.
"Our young kids have really developed into being pretty good players for us, and they are really understanding what we want," Brown said. "Them playing now is only going to make them better in the future."
Brown expects next season to be similar with a couple of juniors and seniors and a lot of sophomores and freshman playing. This fall, it's helped Fort Hays win four in a row and move to 4-4, 3-4 MIAA entering Saturday's non-conference contest against South Dakota School of Mines. Start time is 2 p.m. at Lewis Field Stadium.
"We have got to get them developed now, because we are trying to build a foundation and have a team that is not just good one year and bad the next," Brown said. "We're trying to build something here and make it last a long time, and I think we are getting close to that."
Seniors Tanner Hageman and Keaton Callins have each spent three years in the system at wideout and have turned in quality seasons. But Salat and Maxi have provided big play potential.
Maxi hauled in a 32-yard score and Salat had a 16-yard TD last Saturday in the team's 45-35 victory against Lincoln (Mo.) University. They helped sophomore quarterback Treveon Albert enjoy his best passing game when he finished 22 of 34 for 294 yards and three scores with no interceptions.
Maxi, from Center High School in Kansas City, Mo., is 6-foot-5, 190 pounds. Salat, from Tampa, stands at 6-4, 180 pounds. In addition, redshirt freshman Evan Jennings (6-4, 180) has seen some playing time.
Hageman is 6-1, 175 and Callins is 6-0, 200.
"I love these young receivers," Albert said. "They are tall, they do all the right stuff."
Salat has five catches for 97 yards and a TD and Maxi has four catches for 54 yards and a score.
Fort Hays has already completed 136 passes, seven fewer than all of 2012.
"I just feel blessed for the opportunity to come out and compete with my family, the Tigers and I am just happy to be part of a team and be playing," Maxi said.
Albert has done a good job of keeping the young players confident and giving them opportunities. Callins leads the team with 36 catches for 406 yards and six scores, and Hageman has 17 catches for 220 yards and a TD. But Salat has started every game and Maxi has played in seven of eight contests with two starts. Just 11 Tigers have started every contest.
"They are young, so I want to get them shots, but I got to get them shots to where everything is perfect," Albert said. "...It's all about age. Maybe if it's man to man coverage and if Keaton is running down the sideline, Keaton will know how to give a little push so the referees don't see it, to where these guys might not know how to do it yet to where the referees don't see it."
Maxi came to Fort Hays in the summer and quickly became part of the team. On the field, the coaches told Maxi that any spot was open. Maxi "didn't see age or anything" and immediately started to play. He has learned from veteran wideout coach Al McCray, especially on structure, depth and route running. In high school, Maxi simply ran go routes.
"If you don't get in and out of your break, the corners at this level will break on the ball or pick it off," Maxi said. "He just emphasizes technique, because we are not the studs that we were in high school, so we have to work our way up."