Tom Allen doesn’t think he’s ever coached a group with as many injuries as this 2017 IU football team.
As he stood behind the podium for his weekly press conference Monday and announced that junior return specialist J-Shun Harris II would miss the rest of this season with his third career ACL tear, the realization of what his team has endured seemed to finally hit Allen.
“It's an excessively large number,” Allen said of the hurt players. “I have not seen anything like it. You go back and evaluate, and there have been so many different kinds.”
Specifics on player injuries are rarely released, but the coach went out of his way to address Harris’ recurring knee troubles. The fourth-year Hoosier had carved out a niche for himself as IU’s punt returner this season after playing wide receiver as a freshman and missing the last two years.
Harris had already won Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors twice this season when he returned punts for touchdowns in consecutive games against Virginia and Georgia Southern. He was slowed a bit by injuries throughout the month of October, but still ranked third in the NCAA in punt returns, with an average of 19 yards per return.
Allen became emotional when recalling the journey Harris has already endured in his time at IU.
The Fishers, Indiana, native entered this year having not played a single down since 2014. Now, a little more than halfway through his bounce-back campaign, it’s unclear if Harris will make another play for the Hoosiers ever again.
“Kid has been an absolute warrior to come back from the first two (ACL tears),” Allen said. “My heart breaks for him. He's just overcome so much.”
As part of what has become a weekly ritual at Allen’s press conferences, he also shared updates on the litany of other banged up Hoosiers. Starting junior wide receiver Donavan Hale, who recently had surgery for an undisclosed injury, isn’t expected to return this year.
Freshman quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who came out of Saturday’s game against Maryland twice and allowed senior starter-turned-backup Richard Lagow to enter and throw two touchdowns, is day-to-day.
It remains to be seen which quarterback will earn the start this Saturday against No. 4 Wisconsin.
IU’s top two running backs, freshman Morgan Ellison and junior Mike Majette, both missed the game against Maryland. Allen used different expressions to essentially say the same thing about the status of both – it’s unclear.
Senior tight end Ian Thomas, another starter, hasn’t played a full game in weeks. He’ll continue to rehab and hopefully progress this week too, Allen said. The list goes on and on.
None of this is used as an excuse by Allen, who still spent a considerable amount of time Monday addressing the myriad of ways IU let the game slip away against Maryland. And on the bright side of things, unexpected injuries produce unexpected contributors.
“When somebody isn’t able to play, somebody’s got to step up,” offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. “Sometimes, they might be a younger player that’s learning.”
Freshman receiver Whop Philyor, who was a possible redshirt candidate during summer camp, was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week earlier Monday for his 13-catch performance against the Terrapins.
Philyor’s emergence came about due to the season-ending injuries suffered by Hale and fellow junior receiver Nick Westbrook and has allowed the IU passing game to continue to have weapons at its disposal.
But wide receiver is one of the deepest positions on the Hoosiers’ roster. Other spots aren’t so fortunate. There is no Philyor waiting in the wings.
With at least four games left to be played and no bye week coming as a respite from the grind of the schedule, IU’s injuries will continue to be a fact of life, as they have been all season long.
“Sometimes cards just aren't stacked your way,” Allen said. “But we don't dwell on that. I don't dwell on that.”