Reakwon Jones is satisfied with what NFL scouts have seen of him. He has to be. There's nothing more he'll be able to show. Jones wasn't invited to the NFL Combine. The only chance he would have to prove himself was his pro day. But when the coronavirus shut down IU sports, the pro day was canceled too. "It's adversity when your pro day gets canceled," Jones said. "Opportunities will come again and they have come again. I'm just keeping my head down and continuing to work." Jones knew it was coming as soon as the NBA was postponed. He knew he'd long longer have his pro day, or private workouts, or any of the typical steps of the NFL draft process. But even if he knew it was coming, even if he was beginning to prepare for how he'd adjust to not having a pro day, it was still a shock to see the official announcement of the cancellation. "I was like, 'Nah this ain't gonna happen. No way. They're going to find a way to make it work,'" Jones said. "That's what I'm thinking in my head when I see all this. I'm thinking, 'It's going to change in two days, three days. They're going to put the pro day back on.' I don't really dwell. When it was canceled it was canceled. There's nothing I could do. I can only control what I can control." Jones started working out in Colorado, but came back home to Florida in March. He has a curfew now at his home in Florida due to the coronavirus. He doesn't have weights at home, but he has bands. He's working on stretching and running. Whatever he can. All the gyms are closed. Scouts have asked him what he's been doing now that his resources have been limited by the coronavirus. His message has been the same since before any of the cancellations began. "My mindset is to keep working, keep training," Jones said. "And then get ready to play football because whoever comes calling, whatever happens, I'm just trying to be ready." Back in Florida, Jones has worked with former teammates Jonathan Crawford and Donavan Hale. They've hopped fences to get onto fields. That's their only option to work out in the COVID-19 lockdown. They focus on speed drills, trying to get faster because scouts won't see Jones run a 40-yard dash. They work on footwork, making sure the details are perfect because scouts won't see Jones in the 3-cone drill. Jones has talked personally to the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers. His agent has also spoken to the Cleveland Browns among other teams. In total, seven teams have expressed interest in Jones. NFL teams only have Jones' film, and he believes that should be enough. Jones believes the work he's done in Colorado and Florida since the final whistle of the Gator Bowl will help him be ready when he enters an NFL training camp. He knows he will enter a training camp as an even better player than what the film of his games and practices at IU will show. "I am comfortable because any time I was on the field I gave it everything I've got," Jones said. "I put it all out there. They're going to see me on there. They've seen me practice, they've seen my games. You can't hide from the film. I can't be ashamed of that. I'm proud of what I put on film."
Use the fields below to perform an advanced search of The Hoosier Network's archives. This will return articles, images, and multimedia relevant to your query.
71 items found for your search. If no results were found please broaden your search.
Tom Allen was researching sharks. He was working under Dave Wommack at Ole Miss and was finding qualities of predators. The "land shark" had become an identity of the Ole Miss defense and Allen found that sharks don't blink. They don't have eyelids. They can't blink. "So therefore when we go through and talk about that, so you use that whole concept, no matter what happens, if something happens good, if something happens bad, we don't blink," Allen said Friday. "I had all these different qualities of a shark that we applied to our defense in how we were going to play and how we were going to perform." That concept applied to what Allen was building on defense at Ole Miss. Though with everything surrounding him during the offseason in Bloomington, he brought it back. So when Allen tweeted "We don't blink" Tuesday, there was a point. It wasn't coach-speak. There was a message that all of his players understood. For there has been change in Bloomington since IU walked off the field in Jacksonville following a Gator Bowl loss to Tennessee. A lot of it. Allen doesn't want anyone to blink. This offseason has seen offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer leave for the head coaching job at Fresno State. Special teams coordinator William Inge followed DeBoer there. Defensive line coach Mark Hagen left for Texas. Performance coaches David Ballou and Matt Rhea both left for Alabama. With the success IU had this past season, winning eight games and reaching the Gator Bowl, Allen's coaching staff suddenly became quite sought after. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey, running back Ronnie Walker and offensive tackle Coy Cronk transferred away. It looked as if promising running back and former four-star recruit Sampson James would transfer too, before announcing on Friday he would stay at IU. Tight end Peyton Hendershot was arrested in what is an ongoing case involving accusations of domestic battery. Hendershot was suspended indefinitely by Allen shortly after the alleged incident, but is on the spring roster. It has been a tumultuous offseason. "We've had some change, we don't blink," Allen said. "We've had some guys make some mistakes. You don't blink. You have things that happen that you don't expect. You don't blink. And we talk that way with our guys. So when I sent that out, they knew exactly what I was talking about because we talk about a lot in our program." So Allen had to ask his team to trust him. He asked his team if anyone knew of Ballou or Rhea before they were hired. Almost no one had. That includes Allen. With so many vacancies he had to fill, Allen ensured his team that if they trust him, he'll find the right coaches. The losses of Ballou and Rhea aren't filled yet, and for Allen that's been one of the most difficult adjustments, especially as spring practice starts Saturday. There will just have to be new faces at those practices. "When you do something that hasn't happened in 26 years, people take note," Allen said. "I just feel like that's the nature of having some success, and we've obviously got a long ways to go. It was a great first step to get where we want to be, and those are positive things, but I think with that comes change." The most notable change comes at offensive coordinator, though it isn't with a new face. Nick Sheridan steps into the role DeBoer left and being an internal hire, is expected to maintain much of the schemes that were so productive in IU's 2019 season. He won't have to preside over a quarterback competition either as Michael Penix is healthy, and knows its his team now. Allen said Sheridan wanted the offensive coordinator job when DeBoer was hired — Allen didn't think he was ready. Now, after a year coaching the tight ends, which Sheridan hadn't done before, Allen felt it was time. "I just believe if you're a really good coach, you can coach about any position, and so we get rigid where we think, oh, he's an O-line guy or he's a D-line guy or he's a this guy or that guy, I just don't believe that," Allen said. "And I saw that from Nick." And those new faces include tight ends coach Kevin Wright, who coached at IMG Academy in Florida and Carmel High School in Indiana. His recruiting ties to Florida having coached at a premier high school program builds on what is an IU pipeline in Florida. The same applies to new safeties coach Jason Jones. IU also recently hired Kevin Peoples from Tulane to the the new defensive line coach, filling Hagen's job. Allen said he thinks the staff is already fitting together well. There is already a chemistry and for him, it doesn't feel like all that much has changed. There's now a Gator Bowl patch on Allen's typical black quarter-zip jacket signifying the recent success, but the internal alterations have worked well with relationships among the coaches that already existed. It isn't all put together yet — Allen still has to find new strength coaches. There are still personnel questions to answer with transfers and legal situations surrounding the players. Yet at least for now, Allen isn't blinking.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — At his postgame press conference at TIAA Bank Field, IU head coach Tom Allen’s face was somber, his voice quiet. He had just come off the field, taking a splash from the postgame Gatorade bath meant for Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt. He walked by himself off the field, silently, after his team let a 13-point lead with five minutes to play slip away. After IU’s biggest wins and its biggest losses, Allen often found himself emotional to the point of tears. But he wasn’t after the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl loss to the Volunteers. He talked about the critical miscues on special teams with being in a poor formation for an onside kick and a missed extra point as well as a missed field goal from kicker Logan Justus. But he closed his press conference with a look to the future. The bright future that was such a key reason why reason IU was in Jacksonville in the present. “Life is a process of learning from things that happen to us, and the things that you go through,” Allen said. “We've got to keep developing, keep recruiting, keep doing the things that we're doing that got us to this point, and when you have such a young team they're going to learn lessons from this kind of situation.” Linebacker Reakwon Jones believed the locker room is full of winners, a group that fully expected to win the game. That’s why the loss hurt to him and the others so bad. It was his final college game, but looking out at a team far younger than the fifth-year senior linebacker, Jones had a message to a growing team. “Take this,” Jones said. “Take this in and feel this loss, feel how it feels and you decide whether you want to feel like this or not and that will determine whether or not someone comes back to work after a loss like this.” Jones wants the young players to focus on the little things that went wrong in the loss. To remember what went wrong so that they won’t go wrong again. “It’s an experience you’ve got to go through and just feel,” Jones said. Redshirt-junior quarterback Peyton Ramsey sat next to Allen in the press conference with the same somber, quiet voice. His tight end Peyton Hendershot tweeted after the game that IU wouldn’t have been in Jacksonville without him. But even with the plays he made all season that exemplified the grit and toughness Allen has strived to build his program around, he isn’t part of the future Allen talked about. Seventy-two percent of IU’s roster is made up of freshman and sophomores. Only seven players on the roster had played in a bowl game before and two of those (offensive linemen Coy Cronk and Simon Stepaniak) didn’t even play in the Gator Bowl. [embed]https://twitter.com/TheHoosierNet/status/1212969920469897217[/embed] Allen characterized his roster as one having “youthful experience” early in the season. That played out over the course of the year with the fruits of two consecutive school record setting recruiting classes making their impact. Amidst everything Ramsey was worth to this IU team and season, the quarterback job is still Michael Penix’s when he returns from injury. The Hoosiers were able to flip Penix, a former four-star recruit, away from his original commitment to the Volunteers. And when he was healthy, even if it was only for fleeting moments suddenly pushed down the list of importance in such a special season, Penix showed off his talent unlike what IU has seen out of the quarterback positions in years. He had IU’s offense humming in a way Ramsey, despite everything he accomplished, wasn’t able to replicate. He disappeared from the spotlight after his season-ending injury, but performances like he had against Michigan State emphasized how integral he is to any future plans IU has to make seasons like this one the norm instead of the exception. “We're building a program that expects to be in these games every year,” Allen said. “Haven't been in the past. Tennessee has won more Gator Bowls than we've won bowl games as a program.” It’s a group of youth that includes Stevie Scott who has in just two seasons risen from the bottom of the running back room to a premier player in the Big Ten and a focal point for opposing defenses. It includes the left tackle of the future in Matthew Bedford who stepped in nearly seamlessly for IU’s rock at the position, Cronk, when he went down with an ankle injury. It includes James Head, Micah McFadden, Sio Nofoagatoto’a and Demarcus Elliott who all played key roles on an improved defense. And maybe most notably away from the quarterback position is freshman cornerback Tiawan Mullen had his breakout in the Spartan Stadium endzone, breaking up two consecutive would-be touchdown passes as the beginning of his rise to the top of IU’s depth chart and become IU’s best defensive player, all in one season. He guaranteed before the season that IU would be ranked in the top 25 this year. He and the team fulfilled on that. And he promised after the Gator Bowl that IU would make a bowl game and win it next season. Mullen, Penix and the rest of the youth are what give Allen the confidence to expect IU back in bowl games each season and Mullen the confidence to guarantee a bowl win next season. For now, at least the bowl drought will continue on for at least one more year. Despite the season that ended in heartbreak so often experienced by this program, it’s still IU’s best season in 25 years. Even if the goal before the season was to win this bowl game, the long-term goals Allen set when he took over as head coach still stand. Even with all the youth, IU will still lose key pieces such as Jones, Stepaniak, Nick Westbrook, Donavan Hale, Hunter Littlejohn, Jerome Johnson, Khalil Bryant and potentially Cronk pending his medical redshirt decision. None of those losses are easy to replace, and neither is the departure of offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer. But with the youth getting another winter in the weight room, another spring ball under their belts, IU will be laden with experience, and not just "youthful experience" any more. What Allen has built in that group is what got him an extension, keeping him in Bloomington long enough to keep continuity on a program with uncommon upward momentum.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Inside the tunnel underneath TIAA Bank Field IU athletic director Fred Glass put his arm around head coach Tom Allen. Allen put his arm back around Glass. They had both just walked out of the press conference room. Allen was sullen, his head looking down at the black floor. He leaned toward Allen has they walked down the hallway, and said something to pick up the head coach who led Indiana to its best season in 25 years. Every time Allen has been asked about Glass he's been emotional, thankful for the athletic director who took a chance on him. But on the night of Glass's final football game, the outgoing athletic director left the stadium with a result he'd seen throughout seasons past, regardless of who coached the team. It was supposed to be an exorcism, a night where everything that had gone against IU for decades upon decades would fall by the wayside. A night where the years of losing and coming up short turned into elation with a breakthrough a quarter century in the making. And in the end it was a result all too familiar for a program that had experienced it so many times. For all that's changed, in the end it was all the same. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey leaned forward from his squat and put his head in the ground. Kicker Logan Justus had just missed a 52-yard field goal, what would have been a career long, to give Indiana a lead back that it had let slip away. It wasn't the sole play that sealed a 23-22 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, but a collection of moments in the final minutes that left an Indiana team so close to a program altering win stunned. "We were inches away from making tremendous history here in our program and being the first team to win a bowl game in 28 years," Allen said. "That's what makes this hurt so bad is to be that close and realize you had history on your fingertips and let it slip away." IU defensive back Jamar Johnson read Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano the whole play. He was right here when the ball arrived and picked it off. He got the blocks to burst him free, and he took it 63 yards all the way back for a touchdown. It capped a run of 16 straight points, 16 straight points that gave IU a lead in a game where it had been dominated for so much of the first half. And with five minutes to play IU had a 13 point lead. This season, FBS teams were 0-471 when trailing by such a margin with five minutes remaining in the game. A Tennessee field goal followed by onside kick IU wasn't ready for and a quick touchdown on the ensuing drive saw everything IU had built, how close it had come, all slip away. "The surprise onside kick, that's a tough one to swallow," Allen said. "We've got to execute that. Like I said, we had a heads up that it could happen. Guys just didn't react. That's my fault. We didn't get it done right. That's a big, big mistake on our part." A 13-point lead drained away into a one-point deficit. Indiana had two chances in the final minutes. It missed a field goal and turned it over on downs to seal a fate it has known before. The history of IU's football program is marred with impossible breaks against it that seem to happen all too often. It is a program defined by its decades of losing. And thrown in there some short eras of being close, but not close enough. "It hurts, especially for those guys in the locker room, those seniors that have gotten us to where we are now," Ramsey said. "Just one play here, one play there that you look back on and you say, man, if we make that one, it could be a different story. It hurts for sure. Hurts for those guys in the locker room." Even in a season of milestones — where it won eight games, was ranked in the AP Top 25 bowl and clinched bowl eligibility in October — mistakes of years past showed themselves in the biggest moment. Even in such a historic season, that didn't change. "Tennessee has won more Gator Bowls than we've won bowl games as a program," Allen said. "That's a fact. We've only won three bowl games in our program's history. We're building for the future and that makes this one hurt all the more." Allen's press conference wasn't filled with tears he had in similar backbreaking losses this season. But the same sullen and stunned feeling Allen exuded in his press conference and embrace with Glass exuded to the players as well. Allen said he wanted to build a program that is expecting to go to bowl games. He talked about the long term goals of his program and a team laden with freshman and sophomores. It was one of IU's youngest that had his mind set the same way Allen did. Cornerback Tiawan Mullen felt he failed his upperclassman teammates, that he didn't send them off the way they wanted. "You remember how you finish," Mullen said. "We just want to start a foundation on top of that season to build. Be the first brick to build on." Mullen has been the star of a freshman class that brought IU to its first eight-win season since 1993. He quickly became a key fixture on the defense and headed what he dubbed the "new wave" set to change Indiana football. He hasn't done that yet, experiencing a result his upperclassmen are used to. He doesn't know when he'll see the seniors he feels he let down next. He's turning the page from the moment he steps on the bus. As the seniors told him, he still has a lot of football in front of him. "Next year when we get a bowl game, we're gonna make sure we finish off the right way," Mullen said. "We had a chance to close out this bowl game. But next year for sure we're going to pull it out. Mark my words."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Just before he was born, Peyton Ramsey's parents were watching a Tennessee football game, a Volunteers team quarterbacked by Peyton Manning. Ramsey's dad, a high school football coach liked the quarterback and Ramsey's mom liked the name. Ramsey and his brothers are all named after quarterbacks. His older brother, Montana, is named after Joe Montana and younger brother, Drew, after Drew Bledsoe. It's a football family through and through. "It just kind of exudes the family that he comes from," IU head coach Tom Allen. "They love football. It's a big part of their family. They obviously talk about it a lot and watch it a lot and it's been manifested in the names that they have for their kids. That's pretty cool." And after a year in which he changed his own legacy, Peyton Ramsey is about to face the alma mater of his namesake. Through two years of disappointment as a team, losing to Purdue in the final week of the season to fall short of bowl eligibility in consecutive seasons, Ramsey faced his own personal adversity. The story of Ramsey's season keeps building with each passing week. From the hard conversation he had with Allen as he lost his starting job from a year before to preparing like the starter each week anyway. That mindset had Ramsey ready whenever he was needed with Michael Penix's multitude of injuries. "The way his season started and the way he's been able to display so much grit and leadership and toughness and character through not being named the starter, and then coming back and being the guy and leading this football team to the Gator Bowl," Allen said. And when Penix was ruled out for the remainder of the season, it was Ramsey that got IU to bowl eligibility, that scored the game-winning touchdown to win the Old Oaken Bucket back and sitting as one of five team captains in the team room of TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville just a day before the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. His season, stepping in at a time of need and changing his own legacy, showed his team the kind of quarterback and leader it had. But it too showed Ramsey a lot about himself, qualities that hadn't been there in seasons past. IU wouldn't be here without them. "I think I've learned that I'm a fighter and that just continuing to fight through adversity is the biggest thing," Ramsey said. "I didn't really know how I was going to respond. It was hard initially. It was a roller coaster ride of emotions, but I just learned that I'm a fighter and that tough guys win, and as long as you're a tough guy and you keep fighting, then good things are going to happen." Ramsey spoke about the upperclassman sitting alongside at Wednesday's press conference. They've all been at IU through the ups and downs of the last five years, from Pinstripe and Foster Farms bowls to sitting at home the last two Decembers. Ramsey was among fifth-year seniors who have helped set up the program for this season. The ones who stayed on through a coaching change. "I think it says a lot about the guys that are sitting up front here and the older guys that are in that locker room that have gone through the growing pains, and continue to fight and push forward, even though it was hard and tough, and the leaders kind of stepped up and pushed us forward, kind of propelled us forward," Ramsey said. [embed]https://twitter.com/TheHoosierNet/status/1212442722960838658[/embed] But Ramsey became a part of that leadership group too, even if he didn't say it. That's why he was named a captain near the end of the season. He changed his own narrative from the maligned quarterback of stagnant offenses to the steady leader bringing Indiana to its biggest game in decades. Playing under offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer brought out the best of Ramsey's abilities. Ramsey was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2019, and a Manning Award Star of the Week twice for his performances against Nebraska and Purdue — quite fitting in fact. He's why IU's at the Gator Bowl, on national television, against the school where his namesake made a legend of his own. Playing Peyton Manning's school only means so much to Ramsey. It wasn't something he addressed during his press conference. It only means so much, if anything, to him. It never mattered to him what school IU would play. Everything from this season — the heartbreak of losing the starting job to the celebration uncommon for the normally stoic Ramsey — all led up to this. Penix will be back next season and there is no clear next game for Ramsey. After what he's proven he means to IU all season, the Gator Bowl is his chance to show more than just the Big Ten. His future isn't clear, but he'll always prepare just the same way he's prepared for this one. It's the way his namesake always would.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Fifth-year linebacker Reakwon Jones reiterated a message he and his team have preached all season long. He sat on the end of a table alongside his fellow team captains and head coach Tom Allen in the team room of TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, the site of the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl now just hours away. The players all wore their white jerseys, a Gator Bowl patch sewn onto their left shoulders. "Talking to each other in our room, we're going to win this game," Jones said. "It's been very clear what our mission is, and the guys have locked in, came to work in practice when it's time to work, and when it's time to have fun, have fun. The guys are really handling this trip well and keeping that urgency level high." Since Allen ran off the field following Indiana's bowl-clinching win in Lincoln, jumping and pumping his fist while giving high fives to fans on his way into the tunnel, the team continued to refer back to the same goal. Allen talked in Monday media sessions, telling the story of his team's goal set all the way back in the preseason. The goal was not just to go to the bowl game, but to win it. IU hasn't played since November 30 and it has treated the bowl process as, for all intensive purposes, an extra spring ball. "Playing a late bowl game here in January allowed us to be able to give our guys some time away initially. The first couple weeks, we mostly spent time in the weight room, getting our bodies rested and recovered from a long season," Allen said. "We did a couple practices where we did some seven-on-sevens and things like that, but no pads the first couple weeks." Allen has had to create a schedule that kept IU fresh, but also still ready to play when it takes the field for the 7 p.m. kickoff Thursday against Tennessee. IU has tried to get healthy, or at least as healthy as it can be. Freshman tackle Matthew Bedford is likely to play and fifth-year guard Simon Stepaniak is a game time decision; likely, fifth-year Davondre Love will fill in for him. Sophomore running back Stevie Scott appears unlikely to play.
Haydon Whitehead isn’t supposed to be noticed, at least for no more than the long black hair flowing out from under the back of his helmet. When he’s made his appearances at media sessions his round table is rarely full, right next to crowds surrounding the skill position players and quarterbacks. Such is the life of a punter, a punter who this season had the fewest number of attempts in his three seasons at IU. A punter whose appearances became fleeting, looking on at an offense producing at a level Whitehead hadn’t seen during his time In Bloomington. A punter who never thought he would be here. Whitehead doesn’t quite remember standing back at his own 14-yard line under the Memorial Stadium lights for the first time. He doesn’t quite remember running out on the field in his red Indiana uniform with a red, trident logo helmet. He blacked out. He looked across the line and saw silver helmets with a red stripe down the middle, white jerseys with red lettering and silver pants: then-No. 2 ranked Ohio State. His punt was simple, executed well. He caught the snap and ran to his left before booting the ball. It sailed toward the IU sideline, bouncing out of bounds and the Ohio State 27-yard line. “Just running on the field, you have to trust all the training we’ve done for at that point the last seven or eight months,” Whitehead said. All the visual cues he’d learned in his training were there. He didn’t have to think much, especially with all the distractions surrounding him in the stadium. The crowd at Memorial Stadium gave him a small cheer as he ran off the field. That Thursday night game was the opener of the 2017 college football season, and Memorial Stadium was filled to the upper-most corners in a way it hasn’t been since. Whitehead had never punted in front of a crowd like that before. He hadn’t ever punted in a game at all before. His goal never was to play college football. *** Whitehead is from Melbourne, Australia, a city and area of the country where Australian rules football is the most popular sport. On Saturday mornings kids around 5 years old take part in introductory skills program. Whitehead started right around age 4-5. He played other sports growing up, playing cricket all the way until he was a teenager. But it was too slow for him and didn’t have the contact he loved about football. “I was pretty high strung as a kid, so I liked to be running around all the time,” Whitehead said. “I guess that’s one of the reasons I chose Aussie rules in the end.” Aussie rules football isn’t played with pads, nor a gridiron. It has a rugby shaped ball and both scoring and passing center around kicking. Most make the jump to play professionally, in the Australian Football League, right after high school. The 2019 draft had five rounds, and only 65 players selected. If a player misses their chance to sign with a team at the end of high school, it becomes nearly impossible to make it at all. The Australian Football League was what Whitehead had his sights set on from a young age. But in the final months leading up to the draft, Whitehead realized he wasn’t going to make it. His choice of sport as a kid had always been easy. Suddenly it wasn’t. He had to give up the sport where he’d chased his dream. In the moments players like Whitehead move on and exit their childhood game, Prokick Australia enters. Whitehead, like many others that have come before and after him, had one skill that could translate — kicking. “It's a whole different approach because as it was explained to me when I was studying all this, the way we were raised throwing the football they're raised kicking it to each other,” IU head coach Tom Allen said in a February 2017 press conference announcing his first signing class. Whitehead didn’t know anything about college football, so he went to YouTube to watch a game. He found a game between LSU and Ole Miss. He saw the SEC crowds and passion surrounding a sport so far away to his Australian home. And he saw LSU’s punter, Brad Wing, a Melbourne native. Because of Wing, LSU became Whitehead’s favorite team to watch as he learned the college game. Wing was part of the first wave of Australian punters in college football. Over the course of the decade it grew with a snowball effect. Players like Whitehead who never made it in the Australian Football League took up American football. Now the rugby style punt, catching the snap and running toward and sideline before hitting a low bouncing punt is a common place and threaded throughout college football. That all stems back to Prokick Australia, headed by Nathan Chapman. Over the course of 10 years, Chapman has built a program that is consistently bringing dozens of players across from Australia to the United States. “If you sell a good coffee, people talk about it,” Chapman said. “If you cook a nice meal, people talk about it a restaurant. If you’re getting results along with the quality coaches want more, players are interested.” They build their class by inviting interested players for assessments. Once invited into the program, coaches begin a yearlong program to transition the players from the style of kicking they grew up with to the spiral kick they need in the American game. “We can do the roll out kick, we can do that blindfolded, no worries," Chapman said. "But the spiral, we work damn hard at it and we’ve got a really good teaching method and coaching structure to get the best out of each player.” Whitehead had no difficulties earning an invite. Chapman knew right from the assessment Whitehead was a player capable of reaching a high major program. “It was refreshing, refreshing to see someone kick a ball so smooth," Chapman said. "When you see someone come in who's got a really nice, beautiful long leg kick, nice high follow through…If this kid joins, we know we’re going to change his life.” While Chapman and his staff train Whitehead and others to prepare them for the jump to college football, they are simultaneously looking for a school to take their players. Glamorous signing day shows, commitment videos and swarms of media surround the decisions of high schoolers in America making their decision on where they will play in college. Whitehead never had that. His decision, largely, was made for him. “The player-to-coach contact is one of the last steps which the guys at Prokick do a really good job,” Whitehead said. “Just in case anything happens, falls through, they try not to get our hopes up until they’re pretty confident that the school we’re going to talk to is the one we’re going to end up at.” Allen had only had an Australian punter once before, when he worked at Ole Miss. He began to build a relationship with Prokick then. He reached out to Prokick as he began to put together his first recruiting class as the Hoosiers head coach. They came back with Whitehead and the match was made. It wasn’t until a month ahead of his official visit to Indiana that Whitehead spoke with the coaches in Bloomington for the first time. He never considered another school. He didn’t have that option. Whitehead’s official visit to IU was his first time on American soil. He had only talked on the phone or Skype with IU’s coaches. Meeting them in person sealed the deal. The paperwork was signed quickly, and Whitehead was a Hoosier. His first time living away from home in Melbourne would be nearly 10,000 miles and a 16-hour time difference away. *** That was Whitehead’s toughest adjustment. His family has made a trip over to Indiana in each of his first three years, the first trip coming for his first game. But Whitehead was a mid-year enrollee, and he spent the first months in America without seeing his family, learning to make that adjustment. He, too, had to adjust to driving on the other side of the road and the weather. He hadn’t seen snow before coming to America. “I realized portion size in America with food is so much bigger,” Whitehead said. “It took me six or seven months to be able to finish a plate at a restaurant.” Kicker Logan Justus and his family made Whitehead feel welcome most, as did now-graduated long snapper Dan Godsil and his family. He’s learned the history of a program he knew nothing of when he arrived. He learned the significance of IU’s bowl eligibility clinching win over Nebraska and what it meant to win the Old Oaken Bucket this year, the first time he’s beaten Purdue. He’s only been able to do just so much traveling around football season. He still wants to see New York City and Chicago before his time in America is over. He’s been to Florida twice, and one of those trips was for the 2018 season opener against FIU. It reminded him of the Gold Coast back home. And just as he’s learned the significance of IU’s milestones throughout the 2019 season, he knows why his third trip to Florida is easily his most meaningful. “Have a chance to win nine games in a season after the bowl game is something that would be pretty special for this program and something that I’m looking forward to contributing to,” Whitehead said. He’s been put on Ray Guy Award watch lists in each of his three seasons with IU, and in 2019 he booted a career-best 65-yard punt. Whitehead was among the nation’s leaders in punts downed inside the 10-yard line. As the season wound toward its end Whitehead was deemed eligible for one final year of eligibility. Academically, it is his sixth year, athletically his fourth. One more year to expand on the leadership role he sees himself in, to build on the success the team has had in 2019 and complete a post-graduate degree in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. And if an opportunity to play in the NFL came along — a chance to play football professionally as he had always wanted, albeit in a different country — he would pursue that too. Whitehead isn’t the driving factor getting IU to the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, as no punter would be. Even in a year where he’s been needed less, his role has been executed without flaws. He hasn’t been noticed, and that — unlike his journey to college football itself — was as intended.
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.”
On the flight back from Nebraska, senior left tackle Coy Cronk assumed the deal had already been finished. The Hoosiers, and Chucky, had just beaten the Cornhuskers for the first time in 60 years and clinched bowl eligibility in October. IU was off to its best start in decades and players like Cronk never thought twice about an extension for the head coach they had all rallied behind. Days after IU won the Old Oaken Bucket back and clinched an eight-win regular season, head coach Tom Allen received a contract extension that represented IU finally committing financial resources to football, lifting its coach's salary into the tier applicable to his status of playing in a Power 5 conference. Allen signed a seven-year contract extension, increasing his yearly salary to $3.9 million. The highest paid employee at IU, famous for its basketball tradition, is its football coach. "It reflects a huge commitment to Tom, huge commitment to university football and very importantly a deep commitment that transcends me, transcends the athletic department, reflects engagement and support from the president and the Board of Trustees as well which also bodes well for the future of IU football," IU athletic director Fred Glass said. Allen, however, never truly dreamed of that day. "That was not really part of the plan," Allen said. Allen began coaching in high school, bouncing from Florida to Indiana. He was hired from his head coaching job at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis to coach at Wabash College. Working in assistant positions, Allen had to move his family from Indiana to Tennessee to Iowa to Arkansas to Mississippi to Florida and back to Indiana. And they did it all in less than a decade. Only two of his six college stops before the Hoosiers lasted more than one year. His wife was a school teacher, and had to find new jobs with each move. He wasn't making anything near the money he's getting now. But for Allen, it was never about the money. "You knew hopefully one day you would have a chance to make a little bit more, but to say that I would ever dream of that, think of that, no," Allen said of his new contract. "It was really beyond my wildest dreams to be honest with you. That's why I just feel amazingly blessed and very thankful, appreciative." Allen was in a constant cycle of buying homes during his years moving from job to job. He said he didn't want to rent, instead wanting his family to feel like they had a home, even if they had no way to know how long they'd stay. Or at least with the exception of one home he rented, but only because of how much he'd lost on his previous home when the housing market crash. With his new contract he can pay off that debt. Now he has a home, for the long term, in Indiana. And when he welcomes his young players and walks into the homes of recruits, he can assure them he won't be leaving. "They just want to make sure that you're going to be the one coaching their son the whole time that he's here at Indiana," Allen said. "That's been put to rest with the new contract, and that's why it means a lot." Allen had a large group of recruits on campus just after his new contract was announced. He could tell all of them with absolute certainty that he would be their coach. Even after a breakout season for Indiana and for Allen himself as a coach, he wasn't going to quickly step away for a job at a bigger school should that position open itself. As Allen brings his team to Florida for the Gator Bowl and his first game since signing the new deal, he can tell all the players in a state he recruits so heavily, that the man they'll see yelling and jumping down the sidelines in Jacksonville won't be going anywhere.
After watching SEC football growing up, IU's southeast natives will face Tennessee in the Gator Bowl
Fifth-year linebacker Reakwon Jones kept refreshing his Twitter page. He had seen all the predictions in the hours leading up to the announcement. He had dressed up in his full uniform and bowled in the Indiana Memorial Union Bowling alley for a promotional video. And finally as the New Years Six bowls were announced and the subsequent bowls that followed, Jones, a Florida native, saw what he had truly wanted all along. He kept refreshing his feed amidst the confusion of the reports IU would play Kentucky, quickly followed by the announcement they wouldn't. Eventually, he saw his team would play Tennessee. To him, it didn't really matter who IU faced. He gets to go home. "This is the bowl game all the Florida guys were hoping for deep down," Jones said. "Going home, being able to play in Florida, being able to have our families come to the game, just make it a little bit easier for them, just an exciting opportunity to play in Jacksonville against a great SEC opponent with a lot of history.” Rick Catlett, the executive director of the Gator Bowl, called IU athletic director Fred Glass around 4 p.m. Sunday. He offered Glass and the football program the chance to come to Jacksonville, and play in the Gator Bowl, easily the most prestigious bowl IU has gotten to play in decades. Glass accepted. Immediately. IU got the chance to slide up into the Gator Bowl largely in thanks to the placement of Wisconsin and Penn State. With Wisconsin playing as competitively as any team had against Ohio State all season Saturday night, the Badgers earned a spot in the Rose Bowl while Ohio State went to the playoff. It cleared a spot for Penn State to go to the Cotton Bowl, and for all the non-New Years Six Big Ten teams to move up a slot as a result. "We have a chance to be the one thing that everybody is watching," IU head coach Tom Allen said. "Being raised in a home of a coach, watching all of these bowl games since I was young, you have to remember, to me it just means a lot. You just sit there, you dream of one day being in that situation, to be a part of one of those either as a player, a coach. Now to have that is pretty awesome. I know our guys feel that way." And it puts IU in Florida, the home state of 26 of its players. Add in the surrounding states and that total jumps to 34. Jacksonville itself is home to two key IU defensive players in Khalil Bryant and Devon Matthews. According to Glass, 23,000 IU alumni live within 300 miles of Jacksonville.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- All Tom Allen wanted to do was jump on top of the pile, follow the entirety of the IU sideline emptying out onto the field and sprinting toward the end zone, arms raised in the air, helmets tossed across the field and surrounding quarterback Peyton Ramsey, raising the Old Oaken Bucket high above their heads. He's hurt his back and he's gotten black eyes doing that before. For IU's eccentric head coach, for all his energy, passion and celebration, none of those wounds ever took the unadulterated joy off his face. But through the chaos of the celebration surrounding him -- the Old Oaken Bucket being paraded around Ross-Ade Stadium, Whop Philyor jumping on his back for a celebratory piggy back ride -- Allen walked out to midfield with as much pride as ever, doing it all for the school that had given him a chance. Allen choked up during his postgame press conference, music blaring from the doors of the locker room as the team celebrated inside. Amidst the celebration, Allen spoke of what the win -- a 44-41 victory in double overtime against Purdue and the return of the Old Oaken Bucket -- meant to him. "I want to thank President McRobbie and Fred Glass for believing in me a couple years ago and taking a chance on a small town kid from this great state of Indiana," Allen said as tears began to well. "Not many men would have done that. Living the dream has been pretty awesome." It was fitting, of course, that the celebration center around Ramsey. It was a Bucket game that had it all between driving rain, over 1,000 total yards of offense, and overtime. Through it all was the steady hand of the quarterback who has delivered Indiana to its best season in 25 years. After a season in which he lost the starting job, and chose to stay anyway, it was Ramsey who made the game-winning play in the biggest game of the year and he was the one carried across the field as a hero. He's been the quarterback taking the biggest hits, fighting for every inch on third down scrambles, and developing into a dynamic passer with an offensive coordinator in Kalen DeBoer who has utilized him better than anyone. He rushed up to the line after completing a pass over the middle, a favorite play of DeBoer's, to tight end Peyton Hendershot down to the one yard line. They wanted to play with tempo, which had worked throughout the game, so he snapped it quickly, pulling to his right and running into a Purdue defender. He kept his legs churning, and with a push from running back Ahrod Lloyd, fought across the goal line for the touchdown -- the Old Oaken Bucket winning touchdown.
When he arrived in January, offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer saw the same message posted on signs around IU's football facility. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey didn't grow up in Indiana, but after four years in the program, seeing the same message on the wall every day, he knows how much this week means, and how every other week leads up to it. "What have you done today to beat Purdue?" DeBoer thought the signs were still up from the final week of the year, left from IU's season ending loss to Purdue. But those signs never came down, and DeBoer learned quickly just how much this week means too. It's a message that the program has focused around for decades. It's the same message that drove Lee Corso and the 1979 Holiday Bowl champion team 40 years ago and it was the message written on their cards when they returned to Bloomington for their anniversary this fall. It's a message that has continued to push IU head coach Tom Allen's team every day since losses to Purdue to keep IU out of a bowl game in two straight years. The Hoosiers have worked each day to beat Purdue, and get the bad taste, finally, out of their mouth. "Absolutely something that has really bothered me these last two years," Allen said. "Obviously there were a lot of things that happened when we lost that game, lost the opportunity to go to a bowl game the last two years. It was a very, very difficult offseason to have to sit there and kind of have that over your head, in your heart." Allen has stressed each week that the team's sole focus is on the team coming up next. But with signs plastered around the building, Purdue is always in the back of their mind. Allen is from Indiana, he knows how important this game is and he just had to wait for the right time to emphasize it. That time is now. With the two straight losses, let alone the implication of them, it isn't hard to get his team up for this one. Even with the mindset the team has played with all season, not worrying about the Old Oaken Bucket until the week it can be won, everything has built up to IU's shot at revenge. [embed]https://twitter.com/TheHoosierNet/status/1199085351186423809[/embed] It's the game that Coy Cronk has focused on all season. Whether it's his last Bucket game is still uncertain, but even though he won't play this weekend, it's still of utmost importance to him. Cronk is from Lafayette. His family is full of Boilermakers. It always makes for a different type of Thanksgiving, knowing the game is just days away. When Cronk looks up in the stands at Ross-Ade Stadium he sees scores of familiar faces, just as he does at Memorial Stadium. He just wants to beat them. He's emphasized that to his teammates all year, showing the new faces to this rivalry just what it means to those who have grown up in the midst of it. “There’s always a little bit more on the line, and it’s always real personal for me," Cronk said all the way back at Big Ten Media Day. "I’ve got a lot to prove in that game.” The postseason implications may not be as high as they've been in years past. IU has already clinched bowl eligibility and Purdue has already clinched bowl ineligibility. But it's still just as big for Indiana as it tries to win the Bucket back, and it's still just as big for Purdue, trying to spoil Indiana's season and send it tailspinning into a bowl game. IU is facing a battered Purdue group, down to its third string quarterback and likely without Rondale Moore. It's a 4-7 Purdue team up against IU's 7-4. Coming off two straight losses, Allen wants to make sure his team has momentum going into the bowl game. But a win not only is revenge for coming up short of a bowl game at the hands of Purdue two straight years, but a sign of what Allen has changed in year three. No longer is it a middling IU team entering this week desperate for a win simply to play one more game, but a team looking to win the Bucket, and high expectations beyond it before even stepping on the field. "Finishing with a victory to get the Bucket back, get momentum going into our bowl game," Allen said, "it's huge for our program, for our future, and for what we're building here."
Stevie Scott and Matt Bedford lay on the field next to each other in front of the Michigan sideline. The snow driving into their backs and into the face of head coach Tom Allen who had rushed across the field to his two rising young stars. Scott walked back across the field on his power, limping, head pointed down toward the ground. Bedford swung his arms over two trainers, trying to limp off the field until he stopped. He couldn't make it to the locker room. "Guys get injured, other guys got to step up," Allen said. For so long this season, they have. When IU lost Coy Cronk against UConn, Bedford stepped in seamlessly. When Charlie O'Connor filled in for Hunter Littlejohn, Scott had his best half of the season. When IU lost Whop Philyor, David Ellis and Ty Fryfogle kept IU's offense afloat. And most importantly when IU lost Michael Penix, Peyton Ramsey got it to bowl eligibility. That didn't last forever. It never was going to. IU opened with two scores in its first three drives against Michigan. The only other, a Ramsey interception where he appeared injured before coming back in on the ensuing series. But when it lost Scott and Fryfogle in the first half, the wind in the sails of an IU offense cruising with the same gear it hadn't shifted out of since the lost to Ohio State vanished. A 14-7 lead disappeared and soared to a 39-14 deficit. IU masked its deteriorated depth in wins over Rutgers and Maryland. Michigan though, will, and did, capitalize against a roster it was better than to begin with even at full strength. "This time of the year it gets exposed against this type of team," Allen said. When it lost Scott, Fryfogle and Bedford for various stretches, an offense that already lost Philyor, Penix and Cronk lacked the personnel to compete for the breakthrough win IU has searched decades for. The majority of IU's roster is youth juxtaposed with a starting lineup loaded with veterans. It was exactly that youth, the pieces of the record setting recruiting classes Allen has brought to Bloomington that sit at the center of this milestone reaching season and the reason why it has staying power. For it's those pieces that give IU whatever depth it has. For Tiawan Mullen to soar up the cornerback totem pole and become IU's best at the position, for Bedford mitigating the loss of Cronk let alone IU's offensive line playing better with him, for Ellis to give his team a chance in a suddenly expanded role at Beaver Stadium, for Scott to prove a breakout freshman year was no fluke and for Penix to give IU a chance in any game whenever he's on the field. But for as far as IU's depth took it, all the way to a top 25 ranking and the best nine game start in 25 years, there is only so much of it. Allen knows that. "We're not where we need to be depth wise, we're getting closer, absolutely," Allen said. "But we're not there yet. It's about recruiting, player development and continuing to stay the course. It's perseverance and passion toward what we're trying to accomplish here." Allen's two record setting recruiting classes have IU in a better position to withstand injuries than it has in years. But just two years of recruiting at a program altering level isn't enough to have it ready to beat the elite of the Big Ten East just yet. It's getting closer, that's been clear throughout this season. But it only has so many players that can match what Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State have to offer. It certainly doesn't have that at the second and third string levels the way those teams can replace a star senior with a five-star freshman. Each week with each milestone, IU says it isn't satisfied. As another chance for a breakthrough win slips through its fingers, satisfaction is still far away. A top 25 ranking and bowl eligibility in October are steps in the right direction, but as Allen said coming out of the second bye week, and remains true still, IU hasn't arrived just yet.
Tom Allen ran out of the northeast corner tunnel of Assembly Hall with one hand balled into a fist raised into the air and a yell, the exact same way he leads his team onto the field before every game. The largest cheer of IU men’s basketball’s win over Princeton didn’t go to anything the basketball team did. It went to Allen, and the three players that joined him at center court. Allen pleaded with fans to come Saturday to the final home game of the season. He wants Memorial Stadium packed and loud as No. 13 Michigan arrives. It only is one of the biggest home games in the program’s history. Peyton Ramsey stood alongside Allen on the floor. He wore a black quarter zip and jeans; like always, he didn't stand out. There was no show when he lost his starting job. It hurt, it was one of the hardest days of his life. He didn’t have to help Michael Penix in fall camp and into the season. Frankly, he didn’t have to stay. But he did, and Indiana wouldn’t be where it is without him. Ramsey is completing 72.7% of his passes for 1,673 yards. He’s thrown for 10 touchdowns against just three interceptions. His quarterback rating is 157.3. He’s already ninth in the Big Ten passing yards with by far the fewest pass attempts. Project those numbers out over the full snaps of the season and he’s may be the Big Ten passing leader. With new offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, Ramsey has found not just a system that has allowed him to excel but a play caller that knows how to utilize what he has. DeBoer and Ramsey have formed a perfect pair. When DeBoer arrived at IU, Ramsey’s preparation was one of the first things he noticed. He learned the offense quickly, and soon enough was even checking DeBoer’s own checks. “You just see protection checks and how comfortable he is with that,” DeBoer said. “He just had full control of it. I felt very comfortable all week long telling him 'When you see something, it's all yours.'” When DeBoer took the podium at his introductory press conference, he said he would cater his offense to fit the personnel he had, not force his scheme on players he didn’t recruit. It’s worked. IU has the Big Ten’s top-rated passing and the second total offense. Ramsey has always been unflappable. He’s always been cool and collected. But add in an offense that lets him play to his strengths, and it’s clear why he’s put up career performance after career performance. When he was called upon against Maryland, Ramsey made the tough, gritty runs his head coach lauds that helped IU win a game where the narrative of years past would end in a loss. He went into Nebraska and threw for 351 yards leading IU to bowl eligibility in front of one of college’s football’s most famous environments. And when he went to Beaver Stadium, one of the few more difficult places to play than Lincoln, Ramsey threw for a career-high 371 yards. Ramsey made the plays both with his arm, and even his legs, that gave IU its best shot to win at Penn State in decades. “I think that you always want to see a young man each year get better and elevate his level of play, his execution,” Allen said. “And, boy, he has sure done that.” In IU’s most important wins of the season, it’s been Ramsey. He’s been Allen’s greatest insurance policy. Frankly, he’s more than that now. He’s the leader of the offense. It’s why he was promoted to a team captain after Penix was ruled out for the season. “It does mean a lot to me,” Ramsey said of being a captain. “It signifies the fact that coaches, teammates, everybody involved with Indiana football has belief in me. It’s bigger than football. As a person, as a man that people look up to me and they listen when I talk. It was really special.” It’s why IU hasn’t lost a beat, if not taken another step forward, without the star redshirt-freshman. It’s why IU has one of its smallest lines against Michigan in years. Michigan leads the all-time series against IU 58-9. IU hasn’t beaten Michigan since 1987. But the line opened with IU as seven-point underdogs. Though it has climbed to 10 on Bovada as of Thursday. IU is already going bowling. It already has as much excitement, energy and momentum. around the program as it has had in years. But it still hasn’t had the breakthrough win over a ranked team in Allen’s tenure. On senior day as the upperclassman, who have been integral to one of the Big Ten’s youngest teams, take the field at home one last time, they’ve never felt closer than they do now. They know they have the quarterback to lead them.
On the field, fifth-year offensive lineman Simon Stepaniak wants to be a bully, imposing his will and doing it with an edge. At 6-foot-4, 321 pounds his frame is intimidating. A year ago on the field in Ann Arbor Stepaniak was at the center of controversial hit on Chase Winovich, hitting him slightly late a play after Winovich stepped on his leg. Off of it he watches Rom-Coms. Take the helmet off, and he isn't the same guy. As he heads into his senior day, Stepaniak is one of a group of fifth-year players who have been witness to change few have seen. They'll have played in three bowl games by season's end, gone through a coaching change and seen the highs and lows of a program so often experiencing the latter. "A special group of guys that are really special to me because of what they have, the change that they have created here," IU head coach Tom Allen said. "So many guys. I was looking through the list here before I came up here. And just catalysts for change in our leadership, catalysts for change in the way our kids have prepared in the off-season." Stepaniak is one of 16 seniors being honored Saturday as part of IU's Senior Day celebration ahead of facing No. 12 Michigan. He's part of nine fifth year players, including his roommate Hunter Littlejohn. "I haven't really thought about it that much," Stepaniak said of his senior day. "I know this day was bound to come eventually, and it's here." Stepaniak and Littlejohn have been roommates since they came to Bloomington. The duo have also lived with former IU offensive lineman like Wes Martin and Brandon Knight. That's allowed them to feel more comfortable together on the field, and why the offensive line has been so productive. They watch movies together, including Stepaniak's rom coms, and eat together, six times a day. "If you live together and your bonding every single day, that really helps with playing next to each other," Stepaniak said. "You know every guy's move." Allen didn't recruit any of the fifth years. He didn't sit in the living room with their parents. He's had to build a relationship from scratch. And he's done that. The upperclassman like Stepaniak chose to stay. They bought into what Allen sold them, just as the younger players who Allen recruited have too. "It wasn't too tough," Stepaniak said of the transition. "Good coaches left and great coaches entered." "We were here long enough to embrace his motto and his mindset of what he wants this program to do. I think we're starting to show the upward trend of this program that we're kicking off, these young guys are embracing it. The future is bright." Young pieces of the team like Tiawan Mullen and Michael Penix have given a glimpse at the future of the program as they've already helped IU get to its best season in decades. But they've still defaulted to the leadership of the upperclassman. Without Stepaniak, Littlejohn and especially Coy Cronk, freshman Matt Bedford might not have slid in as well to the left tackle spot. Even for the Big Ten's third youngest team with record setting recruiting classes starting to have an impact, it might not be here without the seniors set to be honored Saturday. Among the 16 players being honored include Logan Justus, who's only misses this season have come in practice. They include Reakwon Jones, a leader for the defense overcoming his own person hardship in the wake of a hurricane. They include Nick Westbrook and Donovan Hale, two rocks of the receiving corps. They include Allen Stallings, IU's leader in sacks. And they include Stepaniak, Littlejohn and Cronk, the anchors of an offensive line that has been among the Big Ten's best this season, and one that churns out NFL talent year after year. Stepaniak didn't think he'd here for five years. After two straight trips to bowl games, he didn't think IU would follow with two years without one. He's been in Bloomington for longer than Allen, but they too are still searching for a breakthrough.
STATE COLLEGE, Penn. — Even for all the bounce backs, the touchdowns scored in the face of a roaring, pom-pom waving student section, the momentum-shifting turnovers and miraculous Peyton Ramsey moments, No. 24 Indiana was close, but not close enough. Again. Even for a season already standing alone as IU's best in 25 years, it was mistakes that resembled the other 24 that were just too much to overcome. IU's four-game winning streak and its AP ranking came screeching to a halt at Beaver Stadium. There was only so much Ramsey could overcome in a 34-27 loss to Penn State. "It hurts," Ramsey said. "So many opportunities on both sides of the ball that we just didn't capitalize. At the end of the day that's what it's about. When you get your chances you gotta make 'em. We just didn't do it." There was the fake punt that wasn't, placed at the center of it all. True freshman long snapper Sean Wracher sent the ball off the shoulder of a Peyton Hendershot not expecting to get it. Penn State scored a touchdown two plays later. "Just a mistake, what do you say," IU head coach Tom Allen said. "He was frustrated with himself. When he came off he realized it. Just unfortunate. Pretty costly for sure." Or at least it was one in a series of narrative-fitting mistakes in a season that has been dedicated to breaking it. On the ensuing IU drive Donavan Hale dropped a should-have-been touchdown. In a game ultimately decided by seven points, it looms large. In the first half, James Head forced a fumble when he sacked Sean Clifford, before IU gave it right back on the last play its best receiver saw. When Philyor found himself sandwiched between the helmets of two Penn State defenders, crushing his head from both sides, and lost the ball in the process. He stayed down on the field, before heading to the locker room in concussion protocol. He wouldn't return to the sideline again. The sum of it all was too much for Ramsey — in one of the best games of his career, throwing for 371 yards on the road against a top-15 total defense — to overcome. "Peyton (is) just tremendously effective, tough, gritty, seems like I say that all the time, don't I," Allen said. Just when the mistakes seemed to be too much, the injuries and turnovers too costly, the dropped touchdowns and questionable play calls too significant, IU's newest captain gave his team a chance. Ramsey had to adjust to being without his top receiver in Philyor. He had to do it surrounded by 106,000 voices pelting down on him. [embed]https://twitter.com/TheHoosierNet/status/1195827230838054912[/embed] In his second trip to Penn State, Ramsey handled the environment. He handled a Penn State pass rush breathing down his neck for most of the second half, pushing around IU's offensive line that had allowed the fewest sacks in the Big Ten. Ramsey had three total touchdowns — one through the air, two with his legs. After losing his job to begin the 2019 season, Ramsey has proven time and time again just how important he is to IU's offense. He's come in relief of Michael Penix in all but two games this season and developed into the quarterback that has led IU to bowl eligibility. He's prepared every week as the starter as Penix looked on from the sideline, his white jersey pulled over a red sweatshirt and sling holding his right arm. Even without the quarterback of the future in Penix, and even in a game where IU showed flashes of teams of years past, it is the quarterback of the past who stayed that showed how much has changed. Ramsey had IU as close as it has been in years to winning in State College for the first time ever, but not close enough. “I was highly disappointed," Allen said. "We didn’t come here to be close.” The Hoosiers have learned how to finish this season. They made plays in the biggest moments in games against Maryland and Nebraska. IU didn't finish this one. A back-breaking eight-minute drive ended any IU hope as Clifford pushed across the goal line and into the endzone on a fourth down. IU didn't finish the same way it didn't finish against Michigan State. A late drive from the Big Ten establishment sealed the fate of a suddenly up and coming bottom feeder. "Day by day, step by step, we're building this thing," Allen said. "Next step is winning these games." [embed]https://twitter.com/TheHoosierNet/status/1195826408905494533[/embed] IU still hasn't shed its narrative of close games against top-tier teams. It still hasn't had the breakthrough it's searched so long for. But it's getting closer, even if it resembles so many losses of years past. "If you don't see it, I think you're not paying much attention," Allen said. Allen said Monday that just because IU was ranked doesn't mean it arrived. Even for the season it's had, cracking the top 25 ranking and its best start since 1993, IU isn't there just yet.
Belief is at the center of the program head coach Tom Allen has been building in Bloomington. Allen believed his team was a top 25 group during fall camp. He believes that his team will end the droughts that have loomed over the Hoosiers for decades. And if anyone doesn't believe those things, Allen doesn't want them there. "If you don't believe we can do great things here, do special things in Bloomington with our football program, then I don't really care what we have or haven't done in the past," Allen said. It's why belief is the most important thing Allen wants his players bringing with them to Penn State. Allen and his No. 24 ranked team have fulfilled on many of those promises, but hey still have more to go. With each passing week, the Hoosiers have reached a new milestone. After beating Nebraska on the road, for what is to this point the biggest win of Allen's tenure as head coach, and clinching bowl eligibility, they wanted more. After beating Northwestern to clinch the first winning season in over a decade, checking off one of the three numbers Allen began is introductory press conference with nearly three years ago, they wanted more. After being ranked in the AP Poll for the first time since September 1994, they wanted more. Even for a team that has never experienced this type of success, even for a program where getting to a bowl game is normally enough, they want more. They aren't satisfied yet. [embed]https://twitter.com/IndianaFootball/status/1193604787914366976?s=20[/embed] With each step taken, IU has had its moments for celebration. After beating Nebraska, a Chucky doll was at the center of postgame locker room celebrations. Allen had the giddy joy of a little kid as he ran into the tunnel in Lincoln. They danced in the locker room after they beat Northwestern to get a seventh win. They had their own celebration story when they saw IU breach the top 25 poll and Allen congratulated them all at Monday's team meeting. But the celebrations didn't last long. With each passing moment of triumph Allen has his team's leadership have returned the focus back to the task at hand, beating whomever is on the schedule that coming week. This week, that's one of IU's biggest tests yet, traveling to Penn State. IU's four game Big Ten winning streak gives it a belief it hasn't had in trips to Penn State of years past. Allen and his team truly believe they can win. It's not just saying it either, they mean it. "As a coaching staff, as players, I want players that believe, just like this week," Allen said. "If you don't believe we can go to Penn State and win at Penn State for the first time in program history, then don't get on the bus." Allen has tried to forget about his last trip to State College, Pennsylvania. Saquon Barkley returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and in a flash IU trailed 28-0 by the end of the first quarter. And this year he saw his team falter against an opponent of that caliber as Ohio State blew out IU earlier this season. As much as Allen has wanted to put both behind him, he wants them to be learning experiences too as his team walks onto the field. [embed]https://twitter.com/BigTenNetwork/status/1193947581442859008[/embed] "It was tough reality that we weren't where we want to be," Allen said. "But what do you do? You feel sorry for yourself or you go back to work. We chose to go back to work and get better. So now we have a chance to line up again against a team of that same caliber. We'll see where we are." IU will face a Penn State team coming off its first loss of the season, a program altering upset for Minnesota. For the first time, IU has film on how it can attack Penn State's weaknesses, following suit to what head coach P.J. Fleck and Minnesota were able to orchestrate. IU has beaten Penn State once, ever. It came in 2013 in Bloomington. Even as a 14.5 point underdog (nonetheless one of IU's closest margins in years), even as ESPN's FPI gives it just a 10% chance of winning, IU believes this year is different. It has since the beginning of fall camp. It's why they all believe this year will be the second.
Tiawan Mullen was in his dorm room when he found out. He saw IU cracked the Coaches Poll, and then sat to wait for the AP. When he saw the AP Top 25 poll, Mullen wasn't surprised. But he got up and screamed "Yes sir!" in his room, celebrating what he had helped his team accomplish as a freshman. Mullen is used to changing team's fortunes. Mullen's high school, Coconut Creek High School near Ft. Lauderdale, hadn't made the playoffs in decades before he got there. In Mullen's senior year, his school got over the hump, and ended its playoff drought. He was committed to doing the same at IU. He wrote down the numbers 50, 26 and 10 at his official visit, the same numbers head coach Tom Allen focused on in his introductory press conference. 50 years since a Big Ten title, 26 years since winning a bowl game, 10 years since having a winning season. "I just went on Google and just typed Indiana," Mullen said, "and the numbers he said and the bowl games they haven't reached and the winning seasons they haven't reached and the Big Ten championships they haven't reached." In his freshman year at IU, he's helped those droughts too.
He's already one of the biggest what ifs in IU history. Then true-freshman quarterback Michael Penix got his chance against Penn State. He lit a spark, and made gave IU a chance against Trace McSorley's team. What if he hadn't torn his ACL? He was named the starter for the 2019 season just days ahead of the season opener against Ball State. He dazzled in the opener, opening an opportunity for an IU program searching to find its next step to finally take it. And he's gone again. A what if forever hanging over yet another IU season. Penix was announced to be out for the remainder of the 2019 season Tuesday in an IU Athletics press release. He suffered an injury to his right sternoclavicular joint, where the sternum and clavicle meet in the neck/shoulder region. "We feel really bad for Mike," IU head coach Tom Allen said in the press release. "He's worked extremely hard and had a great season. He'll recover from this and get bigger and stronger this offseason. Mike has a very bright future with the Hoosiers." At 7-2, Penix's injury is a brick wall thrust in the path of momentum. He finishes the season with 1,394 passing yards, 10 touchdowns to just four interceptions and a 68.8 completion percentage. He was sacked just one time despite a shifting offensive line. Penix also had 119 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Though amid the glimpse at the future and potential of Allen's team with every time Penix touched the ball, injuries plagued the young quarterback's season, reaching a crescendo with Tuesday's announcement. Penix only played in two full games this season: Ball State and Michigan State. He didn't play beyond halftime against Eastern Illinois, Rutgers, Maryland or Northwestern and only against Rutgers was Penix clearly removed because of a blowout. Penix thrived under new offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer's system, though so did Peyton Ramsey. His strong arm and playmaking ability was evident, and why it was still so crucial for this team to get Penix back even with how well Ramsey played in his absence. Whenever he was in the game, IU had a chance, that was never more clear than in his performance against Michigan State in East Lansing. And against lesser opponents, it was Penix that made sure IU didn't fall into a years old narrative of faltering under expectations. Even in what has been IU's best season in decades, how far this team could have gone at full strength could loom forever.
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." [embed]https://twitter.com/BigTenNetwork/status/1176180583074062336[/embed] 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. [embed]https://twitter.com/TheHoosierNet/status/1175513338077470720[/embed] 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. [embed]https://twitter.com/CoachAllenIU/status/1175520296255852549[/embed] 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. [embed]https://twitter.com/Matt_Cohen_/status/1191410044388225027[/embed] 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.