Led by Layne Bieberle and Harley Hazlett, the Fort Hays State offense boasts a senior-laden group of receivers primed for big seasons.
And Fort Hays State coach Chris Brown likes the Tigers' crop of young receivers as well, giving FHSU plenty of depth at wide-out.
"There's a lot of (receivers)," Brown said. "But when you look at, we've got four (returning seniors) — Layne Bieberle, Harley Hazlett, Andrew Jay and Dandre Reed. There's some competition at those positions, and we've got some young guys pushing them as well. That's good to see."
Bieberle and Hazlett combined for 148 catches, 1,798 yards and 12 touchdowns last year for the Tigers, who had the top passing offense in the MIAA (297 yards per game). Hazlett hauled in 91 passes for 904 yards with six touchdowns while Bieberle made 57 grabs for 897 yards with six touchdowns. Fellow seniors Jay and Reed added 17 and 15 receptions, respectively.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that have played a lot of games for us and have done a lot of good things for us,” Brown said. “It’s a good group. I hate to see this be their senior season; I wish I could get them all back. They’re great players and they’re great kids. I’m excited to see what this group does.”
A notable addition to the receiving corps is Kyler Kinnamon, who just finished his basketball career at Fort Hays State. Kinnamon was an all-league football player in high school at McPherson.
Sophomore Manny Ramsey saw significant time as a redshirt freshman last year, making 16 catches with two touchdowns. Brown says there are several other underclassmen waiting in the wings.
“The young guys have got to understand that those (seniors) have had a lot of reps and played a lot of football for us,” Brown said. “To be young, you’ve just got to watch them, be able to bide your time, get yourself on some special teams, because you never know in this game. It’s a physical game, guys go down, so you’ve got to be ready."
Hazlett said the receivers can feed off the competition.
“Knowing that you have a guy just as good as you behind you, it makes you have to push that much harder just to keep your spot or try to earn a spot,” Hazlett said. “It’s competition every day and you’ve got to get better every day.”
The Tigers also bring back three-time All-MIAA selection Matt Wendelberger at tight end. The senior caught 33 passes for 502 yards with four touchdowns as a junior for the back-to-back MIAA champs.
"At the tight end position, I think it’s loaded with Matt Wendelberger, Hunter Budke, Jacoby Williams, Peyton Hill," Brown said. "There’s a lot of different guys. I’m pretty excited about this group to see what they can do.”
Sophomore quarterback Chance Fuller enters the year armed with key experience he gained as a redshirt freshman. The Arlington, Texas native played in 10 games and started against Northwest Missouri and the Tigers' playoff game against the University of Indianapolis.
"Getting him the time that he had, it makes him not a young quarterback, really," Hazlett said. "He's almost like a seasoned vet even though he's only playing in his second year. It's going to be helpful because now he's going to be able to come into games and realize the defenses and play fast instead of playing like a freshman quarterback."
The Tigers open the season at Central Missouri on Sept. 5.