The Fort Hays State football team locked in early on some of the top talent in the state, and the Tigers reaped the rewards with a strong crop of Kansas products for the 2020 recruiting class.
FHSU's 31-player class announced Wednesday included 16 Kansas high school players.
“I feel like the kids we really wanted in-state, we got,” Tigers coach Chris Brown said. “To get those kids, you’ve got to win those games against Washburn, Emporia and Pitt, and were able to do that this year. We’ve got to get on those kids early and show them they’re important to us, and that’s something our coaches really did well.
“We started early on the recruiting trail. We didn’t wait until December to start recruiting these young men. We started early just to make sure we had an opportunity to get them ... I feel like we won the state, I truly do.”
The Tigers landed some of the top talent in the Western Athletic Conference, signing Dodge City's Beau Foster and John Johnson, Great Bend's Dalton Miller and Alex Schremmer, Liberal's Syris Dunlap and Hays High's Hayden Brown, who is Chris Brown's youngest son.
“The area kids we were able to bring in is the coolest thing,” Brown said. “There’s a bunch of kids in this area that we thought were very, very good football players that could help us win conference championships, hopefully national championships. We got a lot of those kids to stay home, and that was the cool thing.”
Hayden Brown enjoyed a standout career at running back for Hays High, compiling over 2,000 career rushing yards and over 1,000 career receiving yards with 32 touchdowns and three kickoff return touchdowns. He will join his older brother, Hunter, at FHSU.
“That’s exciting for me, especially now having the opportunity to coach both my sons here at Fort Hays State. That’s going to be awesome,” Chris Brown said.
Foster (6-foot, 190 pounds) was Dodge City's quarterback, earning WAC 2019 offensive player of the year honors while also playing defensive back, which is the position he is expected to play at Fort Hays State. Johnson was also a standout in the Red Demons' secondary.
“(Foster's) a heck of an athlete,” Brown said. “He’s smart, knows the game, very, very well. And then John Johnson, that’s kid’s good sized (6-3, 200). Raw, he’s still going to get stronger, still going to get bigger, eventually probably going to be an inside linebacker for us, too.”
Miller (5-11, 185) will also be a defensive back for the Tigers after finishing with 430 career tackles with 12 interceptions for Great Bend. His Panther teammate Schremmer (5-10, 160) will play receiver at FHSU. Schremmer recorded 2,048 receiving yards on 138 catches with 21 touchdowns in his career for the Panthers.
“I think that kid’s going to be a heck of a safety for us, maybe possibly turn him into an inside linebacker for us,” Brown said. “Alex Schremmer, just a tremendous, tremendous competitor — hard-working, committed. Great basketball player, too. Just a kid that works hard day in and day out. I think he’s going to be a real force for us at wide receiver. I think a Layne Bieberle type kid for us."
Dunlap (5-8, 170 pounds) was the quarterback at Liberal, finishing his career with 3,639 career rushing yards and 5,454 yards from scrimmage.
“Kid’s a tremendous athlete, he’s fast,” Brown said. “He could be a punt returner, play slot receiver. I think he’s going to do great things for us."
Norton teammates Kade Melvin (5-11, 180) and Judson Wiltfong (6-5, 225) are headed to Fort Hays after helping lead the Bluejays to a Class 2A runner-up finish this past season. Melvin will play defensive back while Wiltfong is a defensive lineman.
“They’ve won a lot of ballgames,” Brown said. “They know how to win. Judson’s a big kid, he’s only going to get bigger. He’s going to be a great force for us on the D-line.
“Kade’s a tough kid, played quarterback and defensive back, and a coach’s son as well. They’re just tough. They’re hard-nosed, they fit who we are. Football is important to them, winning is important to them and they want to make a difference in this program. Both those kids I really feel like are going to make a big difference in this program.”
Other area talent includes Reece Struckhoff, who enjoyed a monster season in the Eight-Man ranks for Thunder Ridge. Struckhoff (5-10, 190) rushed for 2,167 rushing yards and 53 touchdowns while logging 166 tackles as a senior. He will play defensive back for the Tigers.
“It’s going to be a transition for him to move up, but I think the kid can do it,” FHSU coach Chris Brown said. “He’s just a kid who’s a competitor. He’s built very well, he’s got good speed. He plays with a love for the game of football, which is very important. He did well academically, which is awesome. But you could just tell when he was here, he loved being here and part of this program. It’s a big thing for him and I think he’s going to do great things in the future.”
Brown said the secondary was an area of emphasis for this recruiting class.
“At the DB position we were kind of slim,” Brown said. “We really had to rebuild that area of our team. We’ve got some guys that we feel can fill those spots right now, but for the future we need some guys like that.”
Other needs including running back. Tristan Tucker is transferring to the Tigers from Harding, where he rushed for 1,580 yards on 181 carries in three seasons at Harding. Running back Keylan Chapman is a transfer from Southwestern (Calif.) College. The Tigers also signed Toronto King out of Palmetto Prep Academy in South Carolina to play in the backfield.
The class included two quarterbacks — Jack Dawson (5-11, 185) from Arlington, Texas, and Ethan Forrester (6-3, 210) from Land O’Lakes, Fla.
“I’m very excited about this class of young men. Hard-working, committed," Brown said of the overall class. "They fit exactly who we are and the type of character we’re looking for in young men to play here at Fort Hays."