It's been a slow climb, but the Fort Hays State football team has been moving in an upward direction each of head Coach Chris Brown's seasons in Hays. In 2011 the Tigers were 4-7, a one win improvement over the final season under Kevin Verdugo. Last season, FHSU upped the record to 5-6. On Saturday, the Tigers could continue the upward trend. A win over Nebraska-Kearney would give Fort Hays a 6-5 record in 2013.
“I think it’s just taking the steps,” said Brown. “It’s probably not as fast as everyone wants it. In this conference it’s not going to happen real fast, it’s going to take time. But it’s showing that there is progress and we are going in the right direction."
That is why six wins is an important landmark for a Tiger team, who started the year 0-4 and looked like it might have taken a step back in Brown’s third season. Even though they had a five game winning streak snapped last weekend, getting to six wins for the first time since 2009 would be big for FHSU, especially since it has only three winning seasons since 2000.
“My true freshman year was the last time we has a winning season,” said senior Tanner Hageman. “You can’t say how important it is to go 6-5. You really can’t express how big that is for a program, just to show that you are winning and doing the right things."
Winning isn’t the only noticeable change on the field, this season has been packed with a lot of big mile stones: Most points scored since becoming a collegiate team, first punt return for a touchdown since 2009 and first five game winning streak since 2004. A step in the right direction, but definitely not the end game.
“From week one-two-three- and four I didn’t think we were very solid,” said Brown. “But I think these last six weeks we have really come together as a team. I think that we are getting close to being that top tier team. I think we might be a year or so away.
“The more you win, the hunger you get and I think these kids are starting to understand what you need to do to win ball games.”
They aren’t quite there yet. The Tigers five loses have been by an average of 29 points, that’s the bad news. The good news is FHSU’s five wins have been by an average of 20 points. They are taking care of the teams they should beat. Now the team understands, it needs to find a way to steal a few from the top tier teams along the way.
“That just leads into recruiting and to the younger guys,” said Hageman. “Okay we’ve progressed every year, it’s up to you guys to get seven wins and then eight wins and compete every year with those contenders.”
Adds Brown,“From 4-7 to 5-6 to hopefully 6-5 after this weekend’s game. It just shows that we are making the progress needed. It’s just shows that the kids are getting stronger and they are getting faster and they are getting more competitive on the football field.”