BY AMARI ANGRAM-BOLDIN
The Fort Hays State University Tiger football team returned to the practice field this week for “Fall Ball”. Fall ball will be the Tigers’ COVID-19 pandemic version of spring football. The last time the Tigers took the football field for practice was in March, and they did not even make it to the padded practices of spring football because of the campus shut down.
The players are very excited to get back on the field, especially red-shirt junior quarterback, Chance Fuller who has been anticipating returning to practice this fall.
“We are just ready to get back to competing on the field,” Fuller said. “We’ve been out of commission too long. We’re ready to get after again.”
Fuller, who was one of the most prolific passers in NCAA Division II football last year – throwing for 3,344 yards and 35 Touchdowns – is bound to have an even better year this season. With the 2019 season being his first full season as a starter and the 2020 year sidelined by COVID-19, Fuller’s teammates think it was a bad idea for the MIAA to give Fuller a year off.
“They’re giving 14 [Fuller] a year off to get better? …That might not be fair to the rest of the conference,” Senior Offensive Lineman Ted Hessing said.
The Tigers return three starters on the offensive line, one starting receiver, and QB1 Fuller. With question marks all over the offense at various positions, Fuller mentioned redshirt freshmen receivers Dionte Crutchfield, and Dominic Rutligliano, redshirt freshman tight end Hayden Wiltfong, redshirt freshman center Tuli Teuhema, and senior transfer running back Tristian Tucker as players to watch out for to fill the voids in the starting lineup.
“I feel that all those guys will have an immediate impact on the offense once they get into the groove of things,” Fuller said
On defense, the Tigers are looking to fill spots along the front seven, after losing three defensive linemen, and one of their starting linebackers. Senior defensive lineman Javaris Sanders is optimistic senior Kyon Clark, sophomore Dalton Kuhn, and freshman Judson Wiltfong are guys to fill in on the defensive line.
“Those guys are some dogs, and I’m ready to get them on the field with me,” Sanders said.
Sanders also named junior Layke Heimerman, redshirt freshman Myles Menges, and redshirt freshman Nolan Ford as the top competitors for that other linebacker spot.
On the backend of the defense, the Tigers return some experienced players in juniors Jhimon Preston and Jordan Starks, and sophomore Will White. But, the whole team is excited about the new face in the secondary, Kolby Underwood. Underwood, an All-MIAA performer last season for the University of Central Oklahoma, transferred to Fort Hays after a head coaching change took place in Edmond over the off-season.
“He’s a beast, and I’m glad he is finally on my team again,” said Fuller, who played on the same high school football team as Underwood in Arlington, Texas at Lamar High School.
The Tigers will play two intrasquad scrimmages this fall. The first is at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 31 and the second will be at 3:30 p.m. Friday, November 20. Both scrimmages will take place at Lewis Field Stadium in Hays.