After a breakout season resulted in 2020 Big Ten Receiver of the Year honors, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Ty Fryfogle pack his bags and pursue his NFL aspirations.
The Hoosiers had a breakout season of their own, defeating Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin in the same season for the first time in program history, but ended 2020 on a sour note with a 26-20 loss to Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl.
For Fryfogle, this meant unfinished business. The 6-foot-2 receiver known for his leaping ability sat down with head coach Tom Allen and wide receiver coach Grant Heard during the offseason to discuss his future and came to the conclusion that he needed to stay in Bloomington.
“I feel like [Allen and Heard] are the right guys that are going to help me achieve what I need to achieve along the way,” Fryfogle said.
During this process, Allen’s confidence waned at times, but deep down always felt Fryfogle would return. After weighing personal development needs, coupled with a comparison to the rest of the wide receiver draft class, “Jump Ball” was back.
Fryfogle announced in a Jan. 8 Tweet that he is “coming back on my worst behavior.”
It’s not a threat, it’s a promise...I’m coming back on my worst behavior... pic.twitter.com/hu4kAStFC9
— Tyrese Fryfogle (@Ty_Fry3) January 9, 2021
And as a 2021 season with unprecedented expectations approaches, Fryfogle was named one of six captains of the Indiana football team on Aug. 30.
“It’s a great honor to be a captain,” Fryfogle said. “I feel like this team trusts me and I’m happy to be in this position.”
Allen and Heard believed in Fryfogle when many others didn’t, but the development into a top-tier receiver in the Big Ten may have even been a surprise to them. Fryfogle was rated as a three-star recruit out of Lucedale, Mississippi and was the 1,712th-ranked player in the class of 2017.
Allen said recruiting is not an exact science and that it is important to not fall victim to recruiting rankings. For Allen, sometimes recruiting is as simple as a gut instinct.
“Anybody that acts like they got it figured out,” Allen said. “They're not being honest.”
Allen didn’t just like Fryfogle for his big frame, ball skills, speed or strength. His gut told him that Fryfogle’s character fit with what Indiana was all about. Fryfogle is a quiet guy who loves to work.
After meeting with Fryfogle’s family, Allen was assured he was recruiting a high-quality young man and that Fryfogle would buy into Indiana’s culture. Fryfogle has since completed four seasons as a Hoosier, appearing in at least eight games each season.
Along the way, Fryfogle has sharpened his route-running skills, gained speed and studied defensive tendencies and formations. But something that hasn’t changed is the character that Allen recognized when only two other Division I schools offered Fryfogle out of high school.
Throughout Allen’s decades of coaching experience, he has seen players come back for a final season lacking the same drive and edge that put them in a position to be drafted. A player may return and be worried about hurting his draft stock by getting injured or not going full speed in the spring or summer.
Allen said if a player sets his mind on wanting to move on, it’s hard to reprogram that hunger to return to school. But Allen has never sensed that since Fryfogle’s decision to return for a fifth season.
“It was full speed ahead every practice,” Allen said. “Never ever looking for any veteran days off during spring ball or fall camp. That wasn't even part of his processing.”
Ty Fryfogle is one of the best WRs returning to college football ? pic.twitter.com/QXDc6EuYhh
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 25, 2021
This attitude is best seen when Fryfogle interacts with his quarterback Michael Penix Jr. The duo has spearheaded the growth of Indiana’s program thanks to an attitude of never being satisfied.
Penix said whether his pass to Fryfogle is complete or incomplete, Fryfogle always makes a point to discuss what happened during the play and how the two can sharpen their attack. Penix described Fryfogle as detail-oriented in the conversations they have about route running and timing.
Offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan looks forward to using a variety of route concepts to highlight Fryfogle’s ability this year, which Sheridan said is a credit to Fryfogle’s intelligence and level of comfort within Indiana’s scheme.
As a week one matchup at Iowa awaits on Saturday, Fryfogle and the Indiana offense are preparing for what looks to be a stout Iowa defense. In 2020, Iowa allowed the fourth-lowest completion percentage to opposing offenses and the fifth-fewest passing yards per game in the Big Ten.
Fryfogle returned to Bloomington for his fifth season with an edge, and an electric atmosphere at Kinnick Stadium is his first chance to complete his and the team's unfinished business.
“[Fryfogle] wants to be the best version of himself,” Penix said. “So for him coming back, he’s definitely going to be a great part of this offense.”