Coy Cronk watched IU’s game against Michigan State from his home in Lafayette, Indiana, sitting on his couch.
He sat there thinking how the game could have been different had he been there, had a true freshman not been stepping in for his first start against a then-top 25 team. He thought IU could have won had he been out there.
Cronk was just days removed from his surgery, the first surgery of his life. He could barely move, and he felt sorry for himself.
Nearly three months later, Cronk is in the weight room and he’s walking. He stopped feeling sorry for himself quickly, he knew he couldn’t keep going that way.
Cronk returned to his Bloomington home with his mother. Within hours of his return, over 20 teammates came and sat around his living room. To Cronk, it felt like being back in the locker room. His “poor me” phase was over. He wanted to be involved with the team however he could. That’s when Coach Cronk was born.
He embraced his new role, watching on from the sidelines and coaching his teammates. He went out for the coin toss before each game, progressing each week from his scooter, to crutches, to walking.
“I’ve learned my role and I’m happy to be where I’m at,” Cronk said. “Yeah, I would love to be on the field I would kill to be on that field. But if you play football long enough, you’re going to get hurt. My time came so I put that feeling from the Michigan State game, I put it in the past. I’m all in on whatever my role can be for that week.”
For weeks Cronk has watched freshman Matt Bedford’s film. He’s worked to give him two or three short points to work on each week. He finds things across the offensive line that can be improved. He’s out at practice each day for his teammates, and they expect it of him at this point as a fixture of their coaching.
He’s watched on from the sidelines amidst IU’s historic season. After two years of returning home and going out to restaurants or to the lake, he’s had to hear about IU’s losses to Purdue.
“It’s always ‘IU sucks,’ all that kind of stuff,” Cronk said. “It don’t really suck too bad when you’ve got the bucket in Bloomington.”
Cronk sees his team’s upcoming trip to the Gator Bowl as a “last hurrah” for seniors, including himself. He was one of 16 seniors honored at IU’s senior day before facing Michigan. Though this hurrah isn’t necessary his last. He doesn’t know quite yet.
After suffering his season-ending injury in the fourth game of the season, Cronk has had the option to take a redshirt and return for a fifth year. Or he could leave as originally intended after this season and move on to the NFL.
That decision is starting to gain more clarity.
The Gator Bowl has provided an extra month for Cronk to think. Ultimately, it comes down to his health.
“It’s nice to not have any setbacks but there’s some days where I feel really good and I’m really loose and I’m moving around a little bit and I feel like I could play on Saturday,” Cronk said. “But then the next day comes and I’m hobbling around. I can barely walk. Hopefully just get more consistent and it’s a difficult process.”
The extra month of workouts and practices with the team will help him get a better evaluation of himself once the bowl game passes. Cronk doesn’t think the NFL owes him anything. He sees the allure of getting paid. But he also knows he has a lot to prove. Coming in to the NFL Draft his last game will have been on September 28, 2019. He will not have proven to scouts what he can do in a game since the injury.
But he also knows the risks in returning. He knows he could get hurt again, not making money, and a chance to play in the NFL dwindles further.
Cronk didn’t have any final exams, allowing him to maximize his time in the weight room for his rehab and time on the practice field with the team. The time gives Cronk a chance to rehab further before his decision, and it gives Bedford and fifth-year senior Hunter Littlejohn a chance to get back to full health. Young players such as Bedford use the break to get more reps and develop on the field and weight room. Older players who handle most of the snaps during the season use the break to rest, and be at their healthiest when IU takes the field in Jacksonville.
Read between the lines and it seems if Cronk can prove to scouts he is healthy and still the same player receiving high draft consideration he was before the injury, a jump to the NFL seems likely. He knows he’ll be leaving his spot in good hands with Bedford.
And if he chooses to come back, he’ll have a spot waiting for him, even with how well Bedford has played.
Even on the days where Cronk feels good enough to play that weekend, he won’t play in the bowl game. It may be his last game as a Hoosier. Even he doesn’t know that just yet. He just wants to help, in whatever role or capacity he can, win one more game.
“We gotta win nine, we gotta break history,” Cronk said. “We’ve already had eight wins, to be able to get the ninth and have the flag raised all year, that’s our goal.”