Tiger guard adjusting to change
By CONOR NICHOLL
Last season, the Fort Hays State University's line play was considered the offense's strongest position group with three returning starters and a quintet that played together all spring and fall 2012.
This fall, the Tigers have encountered multiple changes up front. Each position has a new starter from last year. Only sophomore Jarred Stindt returns with any starting experience, but he switched to guard after he played center all 2012.
In the team's first 2013 scrimmage, sophomore Matt Erbert, a starting guard as a freshman and expected to be at right tackle this year, hurt his knee and is out for the year.
"We were down right when it happened," Stindt said. "Oh no, what's going to happen.' but we realize one goes down, the other one is going to step up."
Fort Hays has shuffled the line several times in camp and still doesn't have left guard solidified entering game week against Emporia State University. The Tigers open the season Thursday with a 7 p.m. start at Lewis Field Stadium.
"Trying to get them all to jell and that rhythm and consistency down has been a challenge," third-year offensive coordinator Justin Schreiber said. "We are getting a lot closer than we were a week ago.
"I have saw some great improvements and that just comes down to having some consistency finally, and it all starts up front," he added. "I think we are starting to find some guys that are working well together and once it gets taken care of there, everything else I feel should come together. We do have some pretty good athletes."
Last season, FHSU had 74 career games played (61 starts) among the starting five. This year's group has 18 games played in a Tiger uniform and 11 starts, all from Stindt.
"A lot more confidence out there," said Stindt, from Class 2-1A Belleville-Republic County. "Last year, I was kind of feeling my way out, coming from a small high school and having to step onto a stage like this is a big change, but I feel myself being quite a bit more confident actually."
In addition to Stindt's position change, FHSU has found Erbert's replacement. Freshman Trevor Shankle manned the position shortly, but now senior Mario Abundez, a reserve who played in five games a year ago, moved from tackle to guard. Abundez is 6-foot-4, 295 pounds and Stindt stands 6-2, 285.
"Time is going to help everything, but we are a tight-knit group," Stindt said. "I think all of the guys in there, we talk, that's who we hang out with when we are not on the field even. Time is going to help. More practice, more repetition, more watching film, it's all the stuff that we need to do. I think we are getting there."
Senior Greg List (6-3, 285) takes over at center and sophomore Luke Edney (6-4, 270) will be left tackle.
"With Mario being at guard, it was good for pulling, but it wasn't good for the O-line," sophomore quarterback Treveon Albert said. "Putting him at right tackle is way better, because we didn't have that edge pressure like we used to."
List played at Butler County Community College for two seasons before he appeared in one game for Fort Hays last year. List has become a very vocal presence on the line.
"Done a good job of getting those linemen going and ready to play," third-year coach Chris Brown said. "It's good to see those guys do that."
Third-year offensive line coach Justin Iske has led the line to the best rushing numbers since the Tigers moved to the MIAA before the 2006 season. In Iske's first year, FHSU averaged 189.2 rushing yards a game and 4.7 yards per carry. Last year, despite cycling through multiple running backs because of injury, FHSU averaged 174.2 rushing yards a game and 4.6 yards a carry for a 5-6 team.
"He is very loud, but sometimes you have got to be loud to get the point across," Stindt said of Iske.
Fort Hays was seventh best in the 15-team MIAA in rushing and sixth in yards per carry. But the Tigers' sack rate jumped from 7.81 sacks allowed per 100 pass attempts to 9.90, second-worst in the conference. This season, Iske will looks to lead a reshuffled group to another solid season.
"He is a really positive coach," Stindt said. "He wants to get things right right away, because if we can get what's wrong fixed right now, we don't have to go into meetings and get it fixed for tomorrow. We can get it fixed on the field, and that's really nice."