Fort Hays State began the 2013 season in brutal fashion, opening with losses against Emporia State (43-13), Washburn (54-17), Northwest Missouri (49-14) and Missouri Western (52-21).
Of course, that's a brutal schedule, with Northwest Missouri ranked No. 3 and Missouri Western No. 6 in the nation when they played Fort Hays.
However, the Tigers finished their season with a roar, winning six of their final seven games to finish 6-5 overall, progress for fourth-year head coach Chris Brown, a former Pittsburg State great.
"Winning six of those last seven games really gave our kids some confidence," Brown said. "A little momentum going into the summer. Having that new indoor facility, as well, has really helped our kids, a little more motivation to work out and to make themselves better. Also, the hiring of a new strength coach has helped us, as well, being involved with those guys day-in, day-out and getting them ready to play this next fall. Our kids are ready, they're pretty fired up and a lot of momentum right now. We just need to keep that going on."
Treveon Albert, previously utilized at running back and wide receiver, enjoyed a breakout sophomore season at quarterback — 2,338 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on 170-287 passing, plus 507 yards and seven TDs rushing.
"We've got four guys right now that are going to compete for that starting spot but I still think Treveon's our No. 1 going into camp," Brown said. "We've got guys pushing behind him.
"Those four games, you throw a kid, first time he's been a quarterback in our system and still trying to understand our system offensively, those first four games were tough for him. He's still trying to get his feet wet, understand what's going on. There's a lot coming at him, different speeds, blitzes, different coverages. He kinda settled down after those first four games and started to mature. I think, through this summer, he's matured even more. He's become more of a leader."
Albert's best game was 357 yards and five scores against Nebraska-Kearney.
Senior receiver Ed Williams, who averaged 28.2 yards and caught seven touchdowns on just 16 receptions, commented on the potential explosiveness of the Fort Hays offense.
"We've got a lot of guys coming back," Williams said. "We've got a lot of young receivers, running backs coming back and me and Treveon, we have our connection and we've been working, a lot of guys getting stronger and faster. With the young guys learning the system, I feel like we'll get it rolling earlier in the season and our running backs right now, it's a battle going through all those guys."
On the defensive side of the football, Fort Hays returns nine starters, including leading tackler Justin McPhail (90 tackles), Michael Terry (75 tackles), Micheal Jordan (70 tackles, five interceptions) and Jesse Trent (41 tackles).
"We're senior-laden, all the way across the board," Trent said, "and we've finally been able to establish some depth. Not as much as he'd (Coach Brown) prefer but some depth and that's one of the stepping stones you have to have to move forward in this conference. We're moving up."
Jordan and Trent have been named to preseason All-America watch lists.
"He's just a kid that knows it very well," Brown said of Jordan. "He's a physical football player, he runs very well and he's got a lot of excitement. He's a great leader for our guys. They really look up to him, especially the young guys. He's really going to help those young guys come around. . . . Just his emotion on the field, the plays that he can make, his excitement and he's just a playmaker. When he makes a big play, it just gets the whole defense ready to go and the whole offense ready to go. He's the type of kid you want in your program."
Jordan made 87 tackles his sophomore campaign.
In addition to Brown, now the second-leading all-time tackler in Pitt State history, former Gorillas on the Fort Hays staff include defensive coordinator Cooper Harris and new defensive line coach Ike Eguae.
Pitt State and Fort Hays play each other this season for the first time since 2011, a Sept. 27 game at Brandenburg Field/Carnie Smith Stadium which will be shown on the MIAA Network.
Sept. 4 — vs. Central Oklahoma
Sept. 13 — at Northeastern State
Sept. 20 — vs. Lindenwood
Sept. 27 — at Pittsburg State
Oct. 4 — at Washburn
Oct. 11 — vs. Missouri Western
Oct. 18 — at Emporia State
Oct. 25 — vs. Northwest Missouri
Nov. 1 — at Nebraska-Kearney
Nov. 8 — vs. Missouri Southern
Nov. 15 — at Central Missouri