Even the closest brothers fight.
The Fort Hays State University football team avoided the heat for the first three days of fall camp. Thursday, thought, brought the first 90-degree day of the preseason and heated up things between players.
“Yeah, that’s just part of camp,” said Cooper Harris, the fourth-year defensive coordinator for the Tigers. “The longer you go in camp and you’re working against the same guy every day, you can expect those sort of things.
“We don’t want it to take away from the speed of practice or the competitiveness of practice, but as long as it doesn’t become a distraction, we’re alright.”
As practice moved to the 7-on-7 portion of the day, a trio of altercations between members of the offensive and defensive line flared up and slowed the speed of practice temporarily. After the skirmishes, the team huddled up and reminded themselves they are a family, and the final hour of practice was ran flawlessly.
“Well, that kind of stuff’s gonna happen whenever everyone’s giving it their all and going hard,” senior linebacker Justin McPhail said. “Sometimes your emotions get the best of you but it’s kinda one of those things that stays on the field but just happens every once in a while. We’ll handle it.”
McPhail says has seen an increased competitive edge in each of his four years at Fort Hays. He believes that the fights break out not for a bad reason, though.
As the Tigers improve each year, each position gets harder to secure a starting spot and is all a result of giving every play 100 percent.
“Each year that I’ve been here, we’ve gotten more competitive and we’ve gotten a little more depth and everyone’s competing for their spots. That, of course, makes us better as a team when everyone’s competing for their spot,” McPhail said. “It’s just who’s willing to give it their all. The coaches use this as an evaluating tool — when everyone’s tired, that’s when they find out who can play and who can’t.”
The pushing and shoving does not translate to the team’s chemistry, according to McPhail. After four days of being together for more than 12 hours straight, he sees a bond of brothers forming.
“Camp is definitely a time where everyone gets closer,” McPhail said. “We’re spending a lot of time together so I think we’ve definitely gotten closer as a team.”
That is not to say there aren’t a number of positions that are for the taking. With a large graduating class on the defensive line and plenty of talent to go with little experience in the secondary, the coaching staff has spent this week keying in on potential starters come Sept. 3. Harris said he has been pleased with the position battles thus far.
The guys have been working hard since they’ve been here in camp,” Harris said. “You know, practices have been competitive and we’ve been practicing at a high tempo. I’ve been pleased with how the guys responded to that and the veterans have shown good leadership in what we expect from them in practice.
“I’m real pleased with what the guys have done over the us summer both on the D-line and in the secondary — especially in the secondary. I think those young guys have shown a really big improvement since the spring.”
McPhail added, “We got a lot of new guys and they’re just learning but I think defensively, we’re gonna be pretty good. You know, we got a lot of new guys but we have great coaches and they’re gonna get them coached up. I think we’ll be fine defensively.”
A big reason for the improvement of the secondary is the return of senior Daniel Lindsey. The veteran has started 18 games over the past two seasons and has shown the ropes to an inexperienced core. For that reason, Lindsey, along with McPhail, senior tight end Zack Gaughan and senior quarterback Treveon Albert, represented the Tigers at Thursday’s new student pep rally.
“They’ve been fine examples of the type of players we want at Fort Hays State,” Harris said. “They’re always giving 100 percent effort in practice and games and they have the respect of their teammates.”
Friday’s practice welcomes full-pads practices for the first time this preseason, a day McPhail can tell his team has been itching for all week.
While the coaching staff has preached staying off the ground to their players to prevent as many injuries as possible, the expectations rise with a full set of pads, Harris said.
“We want to keep everything sharp but we want to play at a high tempo and high intensity defensively. We’ll put the pads on — everything won’t be live but I expect to see the same intensity we’ve seen the last couple days.”