Fort Hays State football inks 33 on signing day

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News

Putting together a 2021 recruiting class during a pandemic was a unique process, but it didn't hinder the Fort Hays State football team from accomplishing its main objectives, FHSU coach Chris Brown said. 

FHSU football coach Chris Brown and the Tiger coaching staff signed 33 players Wednesday.

Brown said this year's process featured fewer visits to high schools due to COVID-19 protocols. And in the past, the Tigers would bring in about 20 to 25 at a time on FHSU's campus for a visit. This year saw smaller contingents of player visits, with 10 players at a time being the largest. 

"It was a lot different than in the past," Brown said. "Our coaches did a good job, and the kids that came in on the visits did a good job, of keeping everybody safe and following the protocols."

The Tigers announced 33 signees — 31 high schoolers and two college transfers — on national signing day Wednesday. 

Brown said bolstering the Tigers' offense and defensive lines was a point of emphasis. 

"This class, overall, I think is a very good class," he said. "Very talented, very strong, very big. Kids who I really think are going to help us on the front lines."

"Our big need was O-line, D-line and maybe a couple of linebackers," Brown added. "We filled those needs. We added a couple of tight ends, too. We're going to be kind of short here in a couple of years, losing (Hunter) Budke and (Peyton) Hill and those guys.  

"I'm very excited about this group of kids. Big kids. They all wanted to be Tigers, which is awesome."

With all NCAA Division II football players granted an extra year of eligibility, Brown said the Tigers, who saw the 2020 MIAA season canceled, didn't have as much scholarship money available for this year's class. 

"But we were still able to sign quite a few kids," Brown said. "Our freshman scholarships aren't real big anyways. I'm not a guy that's big on entitlement. I want kids to come here and earn stuff. I don't want to throw a lot of money at a kid and he quit or leave. I want them to come here and prove themselves and earn some more money. Our kids have done that in the past. We had enough money to get the kids we needed and we still got a little bit here left to sign a few more kids if we need to."

After signing Kade Melvin and Judson Wiltfong last year, the Tigers added two more Norton Bluejays to their roster in Jonah Ruder, a 6-foot 190-pound receiver, and Gavin Sproul, a 6-foot-1, 210-pounder who played D-end for Norton but will be a linebacker at Fort Hays. 

"Jonah Ruder I think is going to be a very good player for us at the wide receiver position," Brown said. "He probably needs a redshirt year, but he's athletic, runs good routes, has good hands."

"(Sproul is) going to play linebacker for us. I know he played some D-end in high school, but for us he fits more at a linebacker position," Brown said. "...I think he's going to do great things for us at that linebacker position."

Other area signees include Plainville lineman Jonah Smith (6-foot-1, 260) and a pair of Goodland Cowboys in Leyton Cure (6-3, 215), who play tight end, and Mason Murray (6-2, 195), a linebacker. 

Two-time first All Western Athletic Conference selection Alden Knedler (6-2, 215) from Dodge City will play linebacker for the Tigers. 

"He played quarterback and linebacker in high school, so he was probably tired playing both ways where now he's just going to really focus on the one side and really perfect his craft at linebacker," Brown said. 

The two college transfers are defensive lineman Antwan Williams (6-1, 305) from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and defensive lineman Evan Darville (6-2, 300) from Southeast Missouri. Darville is a Dodge City product. 

"A couple of years ago, we were all over him," Brown said. "He's was one of the ones I definitely wanted to get out here. You try to keep those kids home. Anything west of Salina needs to become kind of our home ground and our home base and have kids come to Fort Hays State. 

"It was good to get him back. He's big, he's strong, very athletic. I'm just glad he reached out to me and we were able to get this thing done. I think he's going to be a kid that's going to help us out in the long run."

The Tigers signed one quarterback, Kyler Semrad, 6-1, 200, out of Goddard.

"He's a very good runner, good pocket presence, throws the ball very well," Brown said. "On his visit, he was very excited, his parents went to school here as well, which always helps out. . ... I think he's a kid that here in a few years is going to compete and battle for that starting spot."

The Tigers will begin spring practice on Monday. FHSU is finalizing plans to play a three-game season in the spring.