Relying heavily on youth on both sides of the ball, Hays High coach Tony Crough knows that finding senior leadership will be vital for the Indians in 2019.
Fortunately, those leadership seeds were already planted last season by one player in particular.
Senior Hayden Brown played more than half of last season with a significant foot injury but never missed a game, turning in a strong junior season and earning first-team All-Western Athletic Conference honors.
"By the end of the season Hayden was definitely one of our leaders on the football team,” Crough said. “We expect him to have a huge year. What he showed last year, everybody will rally and everybody will play for Hayden. To play six games or seven games last year with a broken foot and still do what he did — never missed a practice, never missed a snap. He’s the type of kid everyone wants to rally around.
“He’s a heck of a leader and he’s been doing it for about a year.”
Brown rushed for 814 yards with 17 touchdowns total as a junior, scoring 11 times on the ground.
“Of course I’m looking for a solid year again, but I’ve got to lead this team," Brown said. "I’ve got to make sure everyone is accountable and have them at their best.”
He said he will take the torch from last year's senior class.
“Palmer Hutchison and Keaton Markley were big (leaders), and for sure the O-line; that’s going to be missed a lot, but we’ve got some guys this year stepping up," said Brown, whose father, Chris Brown, is Fort Hays State's head football coach, while Hayden's older brother, Hunter, plays for the Tigers and is a former Hays High standout.
Hayden Brown's junior season featured what was undoubtedly one of the most prolific games in Hays High history. He accounted for six touchdowns in a 53-20 win over Wichita South on Sept. 28, scoring six touchdowns on the ground and also taking a kickoff return back for a TD. He finished the game with 154 yards on 16 carries.
Brown said the Indians are looking to use last season as a building block after going 3-6 but staying competitive throughout the year.
“We were in every game, had a chance to win. Now we just have to finish,” he said. “It’s all about doing the little things, going hard in practice every day, finishing, going in the weight room.”
He's looking forward to watching the development of Hays High's underclassmen, some of which got their feet wet playing as freshmen in 2018.
“We have a great sophomore class,” Brown said. “It’s going be fun watching them, fun playing with them.”
Brown thinks the Indians can build off last season's effort offensively, averaging about over 29 points per game in 2018.
“Fast tempo,” he said of the offensive style under Crough. “Lot of snaps. We’re going fast, trying to get the ball off in like 18 seconds, I think.”
The Indians have back-to-back home games to open the season, facing Junction City on Sept. 6 and rival Great Bend on Sept. 13 at Lewis Field Stadium.
“Last go-round,” Brown said of his senior season. “Got to go all out. Got to get it done.”