By the time the 2017 season is gone, several postseason honors likely are to be handed out to members of the Fort Hays State University football team.
The awards have been consistent thus far.
Already, the MIAA champion Tigers placed 21 of its members throughout the all-MIAA football team. That included Defensive Player of the Year honors for Nathan Shepherd, Special Teams Player of the Year for Brandon Brown and Coach of the Year honors for seventh-year head coach Chris Brown.
Most recently, first-team unanimous all-MIAA selection at running back, Kenneth Iheme was put on another honorary list.
That’s all well and good, the senior from Wichita said, but the Heights High School product has bigger things in mind for his team. When he found out he was on the list of 34 players nationally in line for the Harlon Hill Trophy — NCAA Division II’s Heisman equivalent — Iheme thought of it more as a team honor, and that’s what he’s playing for.
“That was great. Really just an honor,” Iheme said of the nomination. “Wouldn’t be on it without the guys around me, the offensive line, the coaches.
“It’s a great honor, but I want something more than that. I want something for this team.”
Iheme, of course, has been a huge reason thus far for that team’s success. In his final season with the Tigers, Iheme rushed for 1,218 yards through their 11-0 MIAA run. He also averaged 139.3 all-purpose yards for game, thus earning his unanimous selection as an all-MIAA running back.
He will be one of two Harlon Hill nominees on the field Saturday when the Tigers play host to Ferris State (Mich.) in their 1 p.m. Division II playoff game at Lewis Field Stadium. The Bulldogs feature junior defensive end Zach Sieler, another Harlon Hill candidate from of Super Region 3. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound Sieler has six sacks, 63 total tackles with 18 tackles for loss.
At the same position for the Tigers is Shepherd, who also recently was invited to participate in the NFL Players Association Collegiate Bowl. That game will take place in January at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Shepherd, like Iheme, said it was great to be recognized and certainly something he was looking for. But, there still is business to be taken care of. The Tiger family comes first.
Right after the Tigers found out officially they were the top seed, Shepherd’s invitation was handed to him in front of a group of Tiger fans on hand that night at Gross Memorial Coliseum. He expected it, but not that way.
“I didn’t know it was going to be done at that moment,” the senior said. “There were stirrings that I might be selected.”
The MIAA”s top defensive player enters Saturday’s playoff game with 37 tackles, four sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Often he has drawn double teams and sometimes triple teams. He knows now, though, Saturday’s first playoff game at Lewis Field Stadium will take maximum effort from a defense that was among the MIAA leaders all season.
“It’s going to come down to us as a defense setting that front and not creating running lanes,” Shepherd said. “Both their quarterbacks do a good job of extending drives, scrambling.”
Win Saturday and FHSU extends its season to next week at Lewis Field Stadium. That means there’s even more of a chance postseason honors will continue to come in in a record-setting season. But, as Iheme says, if the team doesn’t reach its ultimate goal of making it to Kansas City for the national championship game, all the individual honors won’t mean much for now.
“It’s win or go home,” Iheme said. “You can either keep going or you can just go home with nothing at all.”