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'Hawk' makes a move for Tigers

4/20/2012

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

This spring, the Fort Hays State University offensive line had to replace two all-MIAA honorable mention linemen in Casey Sorrell and Lamar Leon. The Tigers switched senior John "Hawk" Rouse, a second team all-MIAA selection in 2011, from center to guard. FHSU has two starters -- redshirt freshman Jarred Stindt and freshman Matt Erbert, from Ellis -- who have yet to play a down of college football. Even with the adjustments, the Tigers' line has looked impressive in spring camp, including the first of three scrimmages last Saturday.

"We are better right now than we were at the end of last spring," Rouse said.

Fort Hays will have its second scrimmage Saturday at Lewis Field Stadium. Start time is 9 a.m. The offense, under second-year coach Chris Brown and offensive coordinator Justin Schreiber, has clicked better than last spring. Fort Hays returns senior quarterback Anthony Sheppard, its four top rushers, including senior running back Andre Smith, an all-MIAA honorable mention pick, and several veteran wideouts.

No Tiger has more career starts than Rouse, who has played in 30 career games with 27 starts. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound senior lineman Josh Reese has played in 33 career games (23 starts), tied with senior linebacker Layton Hickel for most among returning Tigers.

Reese, one of the tackles this spring, has started at every position on the offensive line except center in his career. Six-foot-7, 305-pound senior Logan Jones, who started seven games at left tackle and four contests at right tackle last season, is working at tackle again this spring.

Last year, they helped the offensive line enjoy its best season since FHSU switched to the MIAA before the 2006 season. Under offensive line coach Justin Iske, the line opened holes for 189.2 rushing yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry. It marked the most rushing yards and highest yards per carry for Fort Hays in its MIAA tenure.

FHSU has actually increased its yards per carry average in each of the last six seasons. As well, the line allowed 21 sacks, also the best in six years. Fort Hays collected 343.8 yards of total offense per game, third-best in the last six seasons.

The 6-3, 285-pound Rouse started at left guard in 2009 and '10 before he moved to center last year after Paul Nelson graduated.

"Every O-line coach that has came in here has put me at center," Rouse said. "I think it's because I am undersized, but I think they just moved me over there because I was able to play it and I guess I could snap decently."

At center, Rouse usually had help or was double teamed. At guard, he is manned up against one defender "half the time." Rouse enjoys playing guard and helped spring several long runs in the first scrimmage.

"I feel like a more experienced player should be at a position where it requires you to be one-on-one with somebody else," he said. "Just driving somebody off the ball -- I like to get physical and I like to deliver a hit."

"He is just a big, strong kid and we are going to use him to our advantage," Brown added. "Putting him there makes us even better. Coming along very well."

Rouse, usually quiet, has tried to become more vocal, too. He is the team's only returning captain.

"I feel like being an example in the weight room and being an example out here on the field and doing what I want everyone else to do and being vocal about it is the hardest part because I am not a vocal person at all," he said. "But I think doing that has been somewhat effective because other seniors and junior leaders are stepping up and doing their part and leading the team, so I am not the only one out there by myself."

The 6-2, 280-pound Stindt, from Belleville, and the 6-3, 295-pound Erbert have looked strong at center and guard, respectively.

"(Stindt) is getting better each week, just getting his keys," Brown said. "With him, it is more fundamentals than technique. Once he gets those fundamentals down, he is going to be pretty good for us, and Erbert, he is fitting right in with the group and he has done a great job for us, and if he keeps doing what he is doing, he is going to be starting on that front line."

Erbert first attended Pittsburg State University for the 2010 season but never played. He took a year off and has returned to the field.

"I am excited about him," Rouse said. "I think that he has got a lot of potential. He is a big body and he is pretty stout and he has got good technique for not having played since high school, so I think give him one or two years and he will be a monster. ... It seems like we didn't lose Casey or Leon from last year."


Scoreboard
Sport Date Opponent Score
2/18 SW Baptist L 66-53
12/1 Oklahoma - Panhandle L 66-60 (OT)