Coy Cronk doesn’t like his scooter anymore. That’s good, because he doesn’t need it.
Cronk got up from his black chair in the team room underneath Memorial Stadium and walked to the podium at the front and center of the room.
Walked. No crutches, no scooter.
On September 21, Cronk lay just next to the red outline of Indiana at midfield. He knew immediately how bad it was.
“I had to say one guy that we could not lose this year, it was that guy,” head coach Tom Allen said while pointing to Cronk.
He was blocking a UConn defensive lineman as Peyton Ramsey handed the ball off to Stevie Scott. As Scott came past Cronk, the senior left tackle fell between two UConn players, his leg getting caught beneath him and rolled.
His ankle was twisted. He and his head coach immediately knew his season was over.
“I knew this was not good and my heart just sank,” Allen said. “And I was just sick, sick, sick, because I knew pretty much right then it wasn’t going to be a good outcome.”
Trainers popped Cronk’s ankle back into place, gave him an air cast and lifted him onto the cart. Cronk sat up and looked to his right. He saw all of his teammates leaving the sideline and come out to midfield to greet their fallen teammate. Their fallen leader.
“I just told them to keep going, keep fighting,” Cronk said. “Don’t worry about me, it’s my leg, I’m not gonna die.”
"It's way too far from my heart to kill me."
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 23, 2019
In an instant, Cronk’s football life had been altered.
“Is this a career ending injury?” Cronk asked he got to the training room.
“No, not really,” the trainers responded. “It’s going to be like a four-to-five month thing.”
Assured he would play football again, Cronk’s role shifted. He became Coach Cronk. Still a captain, his leadership role changed from on the field to the sideline.
Instead of his week leading off to kickoff, it leads up to just before it where he goes to midfield for the coin toss. At first he went out on his scooter, and on Saturday against Northwestern it was on his crutches.
His biggest moment of the game is trying to win the coin toss.
"You fight a lot harder when it's not just about you."
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) September 21, 2019
And even if the coin toss is his only time on the field, he still wants to be there every day for his team. Where he’s seen players in similar situations step away from the team, not travel to road games, he’s done just the opposite.
“I just thought it was my duty to travel every week even though for the last two games I couldn’t stand how I’m standing now,” Cronk said. “I had to scoot around, couldn’t really put any weight on it.”
Cronk had to wait a week to have surgery after the injury due to swelling. He’s only a month into his rehab.
He hasn’t been able to move his foot enough to drive his truck.
It’s frustrating for him, even humiliating.
And while he’s fought through it all, he’s watched his team have as much success as the program has seen in decades. It’s the most complete team Cronk has seen in his years with IU.
“It’s hard not to wake up with a smile every day,” Cronk said. “I’ve been part of three years of really close losses, two losing seasons, I guess three losing seasons, two years of not going to a bowl game. Those are never fun, but now you just wake up with a smile on your face. Just feel thankful to be part of the program, get to be in the building.”
Cronk still goes to all of the team meetings. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he goes to a 45-minute-to-one-hour rehab session before going to lift weights.
— Coach Tom Allen (@CoachAllenIU) September 21, 2019
Otherwise he goes to practice, and he goes to Friday walkthroughs. He spends his time doing one thing: watching freshman left tackle Matt Bedford, his replacement.
He watches Bedford’s every move in practice and during games. He gives him tips and advice to get better, fulfilling his new role as Coach Cronk.
Every Sunday, Cronk watches Bedford’s film. The freshman doesn’t know it. Cronk points out all the areas that Bedford can improve. It hasn’t been an easy transition for Bedford, being immediately thrown into a starting spot on the road against Michigan State. Cronk has helped him clean up mistakes, especially so after Bedford struggled Saturday against Northwestern.
“Matt’s a lot better player his freshman year than I was,” Cronk said.
The group has had to shift throughout the season with injuries to Hunter Littlejohn thrown in as well. Neither tackle played significant snaps last season; Bedford wasn’t even on the team yet.
Despite that, IU’s offensive line has allowed the fewest sacks in the Big Ten.
Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer has had to shift the protections the line has run as to not put the inexperienced Bedford out on an island. He’s pushed the right buttons to keep the offensive line at a high level, if not improvement, sans Cronk.
The level of play up front has been why the offense has rocketed up to the second-ranked total offense in the Big Ten.
It’s why Cronk calls DeBoer a rock star everyday.
“I’d do anything to play, but you just have to be thankful for what you’ve got,” Cronk said.
Cronk asked about being a coach, says he doesn’t want to be on the road recruiting all the time, but would like to be Peyton Ramsey’s offensive line coach if Ramsey becomes the HC at his high school in Cincinnati. #iufb
— Matt Cohen (@Matt_Cohen_) November 4, 2019
Cronk has begun to consider what he’ll do next season. He was hurt in the fourth game of the year, which allows him to return for a redshirt senior year. But with his rehab plan, the 2020 NFL Draft is still on his radar. He plans to make a decision after the bowl game.
He met with his surgeon last week and graduated from the scooter to crutches.
“I do not like my scooter anymore,” Cronk said. “That was a long six weeks.”
He was on his crutches for four days, using them as needed. Now he’s taking the next step, going to what he calls the “boot-only routine.”
He wants to do pool workouts soon and get a brace to help him increase the movement of his foot.
And he’ll drive his truck once again.