KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Fort Hays State Tigers have proven over the last two seasons that they are a force in not only the MIAA, but in all of Division-II football. The Tigers lost eight starters from last season’s team, but head coach Chris Brown believes his team will show its depth this season.
“We’ve had other guys that are three-, four-year starters and we’ve had other guys waiting in the wings to play and show what they can do,” Brown said. “I think they’re ready, when you’ve got kids that are sophomores, a couple of juniors and even some freshmen. They’ve worked hard and been in their playbooks this offseason and I’m pretty excited for them.”
Only the Bearcats of Northwest Missouri State had a better defense than Fort Hays in 2018. The Tiger defense allowed just 18 points per game. The defense will look a little different in 2019 after losing 13 letterwinners, five starters and the MIAA Defensive Player of the Year.
Linebacker Tanner Hoekman returns for his senior season after finishing third on the team with 75 tackles in 2018. Hoekman played a big part in the defense finishing fifth in the conference against the run, while his two interceptions helped the Tigers to have the MIAA’s second best pass defense.
Fort Hays returns 10 starters on the offensive side of the ball in 2019. Sophomore quarterback Chance Fuller started two games for the Tigers in 2018 and played in 10. Fuller's starts came in two of the most important games of the season — in a win over Northwest Missouri State in Maryville, and in the team’s loss in the opening round of the playoffs. Fuller finished the season with 1,185 yards and seven touchdowns.
“He’s a tremendous quarterback, he’s going to do great things and he did great things for us last year,” Brown said. “He’s only going to get better and I think he’s going to be one of the top quarterbacks in this league.”
The Tigers’ top-ranked passing offense should continue to torment MIAA foes in 2019 as they return Fuller and their top-three receivers from last season. Senior Harley Hazlett returns for his senior season after leading the conference with 91 receptions last season. On the other side of the field will be Layne Bieberle who was fifth in the conference with 57 receptions.
Fort Hays State finished second to last in rushing offense last season, but the team returns Charles Tigner who finished seventh in the MIAA with 778 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Tigner will split time with D.J. Hickman who was second on the team with 482 yards and five touchdowns last season.
The Tigers were picked to finish first in the MIAA in the coaches poll and second in the media poll. Fort Hays State will begin its title defense with a trip to Central Missouri on Sept. 5.