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Thursday, April 18
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

Preserving RB's potential

Darius Willis

Sophomore running back Darius Willis took in Tuesday’s practice from the sidelines, but coaches said having the top projected running back out wasn’t a cause for concern.

Instead, football fans ought to consider it more of a project in preservation.

“We’re going to be smart with him,” IU coach Bill Lynch said afterward. “He’s obviously had different things — from ankles to knees to hamstrings — throughout his career. We’re going to be smart through camp.”

Willis practiced normally during the first four days of team camp, which began last Friday, but on Tuesday he sported just a helmet and jersey while the remainder of the team worked in full pads.

As a safety measure against the heat, Lynch said his team is stepping on the scale before and after each workout to ensure no one is losing dangerous amounts of weight.

“I feel good,” Willis said. “It’s just getting back in the flow from a long summer and after last year.”

A year ago, Willis missed three games but still managed to lead the Hoosiers in rushing, racking up 607 yards on 123 carries and scoring six touchdowns.
From the words of his coaches, Willis’ definition of “long summer” was one that was quite productive.

“There are a few guys we have on the team that we want to make sure get to the first game,” IU assistant coach and running back coach Dennis Springer said. “We’re taking a little bit different of an approach this fall. They’re guys that worked really, really hard. (Willis) is one of them.”

Keeping the projected top running back out of practices here and there is something Springer said he has seen before.

“When I was at Bowling Green, we did a little bit of this back there,” Springer said. “We had a real good running back named P.J. Pope and did the same thing with him.”

Springer said Willis has already shown some improvement in the first few days of practice, and the two share the same goals for the former Indiana Mr. Football award winner from Indianapolis’ Franklin Central High School.

“He’s gotten better in the first couple of days, running the ball and being at the right spot, finding the holes,” Springer said. “I want him to keep progressing in pass protection and to really keep progressing in his pass receiving.”

Willis noted one way he can improve is actually by slowing down.

“One of my little goals is just being patient when I get the ball,” Willis said. “I’m a little bit too fast when I get it, and the offensive line gets a little mad about that if I don’t slow up.”

Still, Willis seemed the most excited when asked about being part of a lineup with set of wide receivers and an experienced quarterback in fifth-year senior Ben Chappell.

Chappell is expected to hang plenty of numbers on the scoreboard when the season opens against Towson on Sept. 2 at Memorial Stadium.

“I love having a lot of good wide receivers because that means teams won’t play eight in the box,” Willis said. “They’ve got to spread it out and watch our receivers, and with Chappell back there, he’s going to open it up.

“The running game that we’re establishing with all of our running backs — there’s going to be some nice holes available.”

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