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Tuesday, Feb. 27
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

Underclassmen emerge as present, future starters

A year ago, Kofi Hughes was a true freshman and IU’s fifth-leading wide receiver, Stephen Houston was playing junior college football in Kansas and Tre Roberson was a high school senior in Indianapolis.

Three months ago, Hughes was slated to be IU’s third option at wide receiver, Houston was part of a crowded running back backfield and Roberson was the least-experienced candidate in a five-man quarterback battle.

Now, the three underclassmen are the core of a youthful Hoosier offense for the rest of the season, and perhaps further.

“Fundamentally, we’re a young team,” IU Coach Kevin Wilson said. “Fundamentally, we’re not very good, as much as systematically, so we’ve got to keep working on that. We’re actually trying to extend down the stretch without over-practicing.”

On an offense that has had multiple starters at every position this season, a combination of injuries, players leaving the team and demotions have resulted in the current lineup slated to see the field Saturday.

Three seniors, a junior, three sophomores and four freshmen are set to start, according to the most recent depth chart.

“It’s changed a little bit, but that’s why you coach all the kids in your room,” said  Kevin Johns, co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. “I wanted to build depth the first day I walked in.”

Though freshmen guards Collin Rahrig and Bernard Taylor will start on the offensive line Saturday against Ohio State and two other freshmen-guard Cody Evers and tackle Peyton Eckert, have started at some point this season, the youth movement at the skill positions has perhaps become more pronounced.

Senior wide receiver Damarlo Belcher, the team’s leading returning pass-catcher entering the season, was dismissed from the team Monday for an unspecified violation of team rules. He had missed games at various points in the season with a combination of injuries and a suspension.

For the rest of the year, IU will also be without the services of wide receiver Duwyce Wilson, a sophomore in his third year in the program.

That leaves Hughes, currently with 20 catches for 298 yards and a pair of touchdowns, as the Hoosiers’ de facto go-to receiver for the rest of the season.

“He’s completely bought in,” Johns said. “If you ask our players, he’d be one of the hardest working guys on the practice field. He’ll walk off the practice field and his socks will be squishing with water from the sweat. We need him to take over that role and we need him to step up and keep rolling.”

IU returned three contributors at running back from last season, but none of the three remain on the roster.

Junior Darius Willis has not played due to injuries and is seeking a medical-hardship waiver while sophomores Nick Turner and Antonio Banks have left the team.

IU has started three players at running back this season, but Houston, a sophomore transfer from Independence Community College in Kansas, appears to have emerged as the starter after a 151-yard outburst against Northwestern.

“He’s not a finished product, but he’s a lot closer to being a very effective guy in his route-blocking,” Running Backs Coach Deland McCullough said. “Stephen possesses a lot of skills, close to a complete package.”

At various times during the season, sophomores Edward Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel appeared to be locked in as the starting quarterbacks, but after injuries slowed them, the true freshman Roberson has stepped into the role.

Last week against the Wildcats, he threw for 169 yards and ran for an additional 121.

“Tre has an interesting dynamic with everybody,” Johns said. “The reason I say that is he has such a great personality. He’s such an easy kid to be around. He has that charisma. I’ve said it before; he has that ‘It factor’ at quarterback. Tre’s just a fun guy to be around for our whole offense.”

With an all-around young offense featuring starting linemen under 295 pounds, a quarterback with running ability and several players with gadget capabilities such as Hughes and true freshman wide receiver Shane Wynn, Johns said the offensive game plan will continue to be tweaked to best utilize the players’ talents.

“Right now, we’re trying to find as much offense as we need to help us win games,” Johns said. “We’re going to do what it takes to win. If that means option, that’s what we’ll do. If it means throw it 70 times, that’s what we’ll do. It’s hard to see where it’s going to continue to grow, but right now, we’re just trying to win games.”

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