Judging by the first practice, Chris Brown could tell complacency wasn’t an issue for Fort Hays State football in the offseason.
The ninth-year FHSU coach was convinced his players put work in over the summer as the back-to-back MIAA champions opened fall camp Friday.
“I was proud of both sides of the ball,” Brown said. “You can tell they did something this summer. You can tell they really worked at it and got after each other during individual drills, seven on seven. You can tell they were in the weight room.
“A lot of these guys, their bodies have tremendously changed just through the summer, especially all those freshmen. You look at them now and go ‘Wow, those kids are going to help us out someday.' ”
Fort Hays senior Tanner Hoekman said he liked the attitude he saw from the Tigers, who again have strong numbers with around 130 players to start camp.
“The confidence is just outstanding,” said Hoekman, who is making the switch from bandit to inside linebacker for the Tiger defense. “We’ve got guys coming in just ready to roll. They think that they can cover everything, they can catch everything — that’s what we need to further ourselves along in the conference and in the playoffs and hopefully win a national championship.”
The Tigers, 9-3 a year ago, boast a wealth of experience on offense, returning nine starters including five all-conference picks — senior receivers Layne Bieberle and Harley Hazlett, senior tight end Matt Wendelberger, junior offensive lineman Amari Angram-Boldin and running back Charles Tigner.
Sophomore quarterback Chance Fuller returns after playing in 10 games last year and earning two late-season starts. He threw for 1,185 passing yards as a redshirt freshman.
“We have a lot of guys that I feel confident in that make this offense dangerous, explosive,” Hazlett said. “I think that if we really mesh as a unit, we’ll be pretty much unstoppable.”
The Tigers have big shoes to fill on defense after losing six starters, including three first-team All-MIAA picks — linebacker Jose Delgado, bandit Doyin Jibowu and defensive lineman Wyatt Parker. Delgado was MIAA defensive player of the year last season, while Jibowu is currently with the Chicago Bears.
“We lost a lot of experience and leadership, but I think that we have a good, strong core coming up back with us older guys that can lead this team,” Hoekman said. “All the new guys and the young guys are picking it up really great. You look around, we got the older guys working with the younger guys who are still trying to learn it. I see the leadership just stepping up tremendously.”
The Tigers will be lacking for experience in the secondary, but Brown has been pleased with the early development of his young defensive backs, including sophomores Jordan Starks and Jhimon Preston and redshirt freshman Will White. Junior Isaiah Creal-Musgray, who redshirted last year after transferring from Diablo Valley (Calif.) College, is also expected to play a key role in the secondary.
“There’s a lot of talent there,” Brown said. “Those guys can play very well. They’re athletic, they’re fast, they’re hungry and they want to get on the field.”
The Tigers’ first practice with full pads is Tuesday. They open the season Sept. 5 at Central Missouri.
“They practice hard and they get after it every single day,” Brown said. “Something we always talk about: ’17 was a great season, ’18 was a great season, but those seasons are done. This is 2019 and it’s what you do this season. We can’t think about the past. It’s about what you do moving forward.”