Work ethic, family bond has Fort Hays State off to its best start in 100 years
For Tyler Bacon, the wait was worth it.
It took until Week 7 of this season for the Fort Hays State University senior receiver to haul in his first touchdown pass of the year.
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That's hard enough to believe seeing that Bacon has been a constant starter at the position since his sophomore season in 2015.
But Saturday's TD grab against Washburn University was the first of his career as well.
And it came with 5:04 to play in the game, giving FHSU a 34-20 lead in an eventual 37-20 victory at Lewis Field Stadium.
While the touchdown was special to Bacon, it might have been more important to his teammates to see all his hard work the last four years pay off with a trip to pay dirt.
"I think that was probably the most special part," Bacon said about the sidelines erupting in celebration for his score. "We have a pretty close team, and looking back on it, that's what probably meant the most to me because they were genuinely excited about me getting my first touchdown."
At Tuesday afternoon's weekly press conference, Bacon quickly downplayed his 30-yard TD and reflected praise on the team as a whole.
"At the end of the day, the biggest thing I'm most excited about is we got the W," he said. "At the end of the day, a win is a win -- no matter how you get it."
Saturday's win moved the Tigers to 7-0 this year, tied atop the MIAA standings with defending champ Northwest Missouri State University, heading into Saturday's contest at Missouri Western.
The 7-0 start is the best in 100 years for the Tigers, and has come about with the hard work of players buying into the program and coaching staff -- similar to Bacon's hard-work ethic and willingness to do his job each game.
Instead of relishing in personal accolades, the Tiger players have bonded into perhaps the school's best football team in history despite coming from different areas of the country and backgrounds.
"It's a blast. I love it," FHSU head coach Chris Brown said about developing kids into quality individuals as well as players. "We just want kids that come in here and work hard. It doesn't matter the size or make or whatever it might be. Size is awesome, but Bacon is a tough kid. He's going to get first downs and run the route exactly as you want it and ask a ton of questions. He's going to block his tail off in run plays. And Bama (Monterio Burchfield), when you need a big play, you're able to throw to him. Bieb (Layne Bieberle) is another one of those kids. He really came around this past week and made some nice catches. (Charles) Tigner is another example.
"We've got guys in place, and we feel like we have a bunch of weapons offensively and defensively. It's just them playing every single day and playing hard every single play and making the plays. But this is a really fun group to coach. They come to work every single day. They don't cause any problems. They're fun to be around. They make fun of us, and we make fun of them. That's what it's about is really enjoying doing it. If you're not having fun, then why are you doing it? I like being around them, and I think they like being around me -- you never know. But they do well with what we want them to do, and they've bought in. They are excited and having a good time right now."
This year's undefeated start is the best in Brown's tenure at the school, and has helped produce two of the largest home crowds in recent memory against Washburn and Pitt State.
Brown admits this year's team might be the closest-knit group he's been around while at FHSU, ranked No. 8 in the latest poll. It's the highest the Tigers have been ranked since joining the NCAA Division II ranks.
While Brown deflects the praise to his players, the players know the season wouldn't be what it is today without the coach's guidance on and off the field.
"A lot of us have a lot of faith in God, and we have a lot of faith in each other and this team," Bacon said. "Coach Brown is great with pushing and helping us get to church and things like that. But we also are a bunch of hard-workers and don't give up. That's the biggest thing."
The Tigers have had to overcome deficits this season to remain perfect, including the last two weeks at home when they trailed 17-0 to the Gorillas and 10 points twice to the Ichabods.
That's given the Tigers extra pep in their step.
"We're loving it," said junior defensive back Connor Shedeed, who had seven tackles against Washburn. "We enjoy it that day, that night, then the next day we're repping and getting ready to prepare for the next team. This brotherhood and this family, this team has a real faith in God. Everyone is wondering what's different about this team, and man, we have faith. Even when we went down in that first half, no one was worried. No one was batting an eye. We knew what this team was capable of. It's tremendous."
Now the Tigers will have to keep that family feeling going during the final four weeks of the regular season. They just might be the toughest four weeks yet, with FHSU facing three of the top six teams in the MIAA standings.
"It's been a process. This group of guys we have now have really bought into what we are doing as a coaching staff and trust what we are doing is best for them," Brown said. "They believe in the plays we put them in, and they believe they're all going to work. When you have kids thinking they're all going to work, they do -- even when they probably shouldn't. Sometimes they work because they believe in them. This group watches film constantly, making sure they know their opponent. They're reading the scouting report, always asking questions in practice to make sure they're doing things the right way.
"They hold each other accountable, too. If someone messes up, they teach them. That maturity level there and what they're doing is why they are winning ball games because they truly care about winning and about this football program -- and they truly care about their teammates. When you get a group of guys like that who are going to fight and battle every single play for one another, you're going to win some games."
This article is written by Nick Schwien from The Hays Daily News, Kan. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.