Football has always kind of been the ‘second sport’ at Fort Hays State. Basketball has been king at the school for years and years.
But when football is good, there is no better place to spend a Saturday in Western Kansas than Lewis Field Stadium in Hays. I was able to see some of the ‘glory days’ at my alma mater from the press box. The run through the 90’s was as good as the Tigers have been. Three playoff games – two at the NCAA Division II level.
The 1990’s saw the Tigers go 63-46-3 during the decade for a .576 winning percentage. The first winning decade since the 30’s.
But things started to slip in the late ‘90’s. After winning conference titles and heading to the playoffs in 1993 and 1995 the Tigers still went 7-3 in 1996 before the slide.
That 1995 featured Great Bend’s own Shawn Behr at quarterback as the Tiger threw the ball all over the field. Behr had three high level receivers to pitch it to and he pitched it often.
Behr threw 34 touchdowns that season – a school record by nine. He threw five against Colorado Mines, which is tied for a school record.
Behr threw for 3497 yards that year – a mark that stood until 2010.
Lance Schwindt caught 15 TD’s that year – a school record. Schwindt was tall, a jumper and ran like a deer. His 103.5 receiving yards a game was also a record at the time and Kahn Powell’s 85.3 was the sixth best in school history. Powell was short, quick and ran like a jack rabbit. Then there is Xavier Brown who, like Schwindt, was a tremendous athlete.
The Tigers had a stretch of games where they scored 31, 35, 62, 50, 56, and 47 toward the end of the year as they went on a 7-game winning streak. The regular season ended in a 27-all tie before a 59-28 beat down by Texas A&M-Kingsville in the playoffs. That Kingsville team was really, really good.
That was truly a fun season.
The slide started in 1997 with a 5-6 mark in Bob Cortese’s final season. Fort Hays had just four winning seasons from 1997 to 2013. And those were 6-5 seasons.
But things have improved for the Tigers since Chris Brown’s arrival in 2011.
Fort Hays was recently selected sixth in the MIAA preseason poll – probably about where most figured the Tigers would slot. The team finished tied for fourth last season with a 7-4 record. The Tigers were tied for fourth with Missouri Western and Central Missouri. That is basically how the projections went this year with Missouri Western tabbed fourth and Central Missouri fifth just ahead of the Tigers.
Fort Hays’ transition into the upper echelon of the league has been a long grind improving one game a year until last year when the Tigers posted their best record yet under coach Chris Brown. Fort Hays went 4-7 his first year in 2011, then 5-6, 6-5 and finally the 7-4 mark.
Northwest Missouri State and Pittsburg State were again selected first and second. They tied for the conference title last year and both advanced to the playoffs. Central Oklahoma was picked third. That will be the season opener for the Tigers in Hays.
The MIAA is an interesting setup for football with 12 teams. Those 12 teams – 11 games – make up the entire regular season schedule. That means there is little time to ease yourself into the season
The 7-win season was the first at the school since that 1996 season – nearly 20 years. That same year Brown was graduated from Pittsburg State where he was an All-American three times and was named the Division II Player of the Year as a free safety his senior season.
Before coming to Fort Hays the Liberal native coached nine seasons as an assistant at Washburn including a pair of NCAA playoff appearances.
Speaking of polls, look for the first NJCAA polls to be released soon. In fact, the men’s soccer poll is out with just one Jayhawk school ranked – Coffeyville at No. 25. Neosho County received votes. The women’s soccer poll and volleyball poll should be out in the next 10 days or so.
The regular season at Barton for those sports will get started on Aug. 21. Cross Country will start that day as well. The first cross country poll won’t come out until the early stages of September.
Golf won’t tee off until the middle of September and those polls won’t be out until later that month.
The American Legion baseball seasons are now over and for a pair of teams locally it was a great season. Congratulations to both the Great Bend Chiefs and the Larned Indians on great summer seasons.
Great Bend ended 1-2 at the state tournament while Larned posted a 2-2 mark for the second straight season.