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Freshmen trio key cogs in the IU football machine


Freshman offensive lineman Coy Cronk, 54, congratulates sophomore wide receiver Nick Westbrook after scoring against Wake Forest during the first half. Noble Guyon and Noble Guyon Buy Photos

Three freshmen are playing what IU Coach Kevin Wilson calls some of the toughest positions in college football, and through eight games they aren’t rattled.

Coy Cronk starts at left tackle, Marcelino Ball at husky and A’Shon Riggins at cornerback.

Cronk has drawn comparison to former Hoosier and 2016 NFL Draft second round selection Jason Spriggs, who started 47 games at left tackle while at IU. Ball carved out a role in the new position featured in defensive coordinator Tom Allen’s 4-2-5 scheme, and Riggins wrestled away the starting nod from junior Ben Bach, who was also at times considered for the husky slot.

But, more so than the talent that’s required to achieve what they have, Wilson is impressed with their maturity.

“There are freshmen in our freshman class that probably have more skill than those guys, but those guys are more grown and they’re more complete and they’re playing well,” Wilson said. “And they’re playing — they’re more grown than some of our older guys.”

When Ball and Riggins are in one-on-one coverage and Cronk is on the edge of the offensive line, Wilson describes them as playing on an island.

They’ve been burned at times, no question. Cronk has been called for costly holding penalties, and Ball and Riggins have been beaten in coverage, but for the most part they’ve held their own. Cronk is filling in nicely for an offensive line battling injuries to key pieces, and the defensive duo are making points plays at the expense of opposing offenses.

Ball leads the Hoosiers with two interceptions, is second in pass breakups with seven and third on the team in tackles with 56. Riggins registered a pick of his own in his first start at Ohio State, has five pass breakups and a sack.

All three have played in each game so far this season. All three have impressed.

Just this past weekend Ball nabbed his second interception and recovered a fumble, continuing to keep up his hot start and defy any sort of midseason wear and tear that defensive coordinator Tom Allen sometimes sees in freshmen.

Ball wasn’t satisfied with his performance, and Allen said his ability to quickly recognize what needs to be fixed exemplifies how much he’s developed already and how well he fits in with his fellow teammates.

“He just understands football,” Allen said. “He’s battling, he’s tough, and he kind of embodies the personality of our defense — that is we’re going to be high-energy, tough, aggressive.”

Allen said that while he was recruiting Ball that Ball was a prospect who could fit in well at husky. Riggins pledged to start as a freshman and hasn’t lost that confidence since stepping onto campus. Coaches and fellow teammates said Cronk was eager to learn, and the lineman is making the most of his opportunity.

All three appear to have significant roles ahead of them in their next few years in Bloomington, and Wilson isn’t shy about it.

In his eyes, all three are legit.

“Those are three really good players,” Wilson said. “Marcelino is awesome. He’s a big-time player, and those other two guys aren’t far behind. They ought to be freshmen All-Americans and all that stuff.”

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