In the middle of a heated battle on the field, the members of IU’s tight end group each have their own specialty.
Junior Austin Dorris said each one of his teammates have a particular set of skills.
Freshman Peyton Hendershot is the strategic one. Senior Ryan Wattercutter is the confident one.
“Wattercutter will tell you he’s the best,” Dorris said. “But he’s not.”
However, this battlefield is not the one inside the Hoosiers’ home at Memorial Stadium — it’s a virtual one.
To build camaraderie between the mix of both veterans and young players in the IU tight end room, Dorris and the rest of his teammates have grown fond of the video game Fortnite.
As a competition heats up for the starting tight end position, the group constantly talks to each other and hangs out, with Fortnite becoming a getaway from the grind of IU’s fall camp.
“We’re constantly together,” Dorris said. “With fall camp, you never really leave each other.”
Much like their prowess in the virtual realm of Fortnite, each tight end has developed his own specific skillsets on the actual football field as well.
Between veterans like Dorris and Wattercutter and exciting young options like Hendershot, sophomore Shaun Bonner and freshmen Matt Bjorson and T.J. Ivy, it’s made for an interesting and tight battle for playing time.
“In spring ball, nobody really knew who would be taking reps with the ones, the twos and even in fall camp, no one really knew,” Dorris said. “We still don’t really know, honestly. Every single day, everyone has to go out and continue to do what they can.”
Even though there still isn’t a clear-cut No. 1 option on the depth chart, Dorris said he’s been impressed with everybody at times, especially true freshmen like Bjorson and Ivy, who he said he sees a lot of similarities to his own game.
Now, despite mainly playing special teams during his time in Bloomington, Dorris finds himself as one of the leaders of the group and has made it a priority to bring those talented freshmen along swiftly.
“The game’s a lot faster for them,” Dorris said. “I just try to talk to them and just slow them down because they’re getting a lot of stuff thrown at them.”
While Dorris said he sees that leadership as one of his own best qualities as a player, he is also somebody that has gained a lot of momentum when it comes to earning that starting role.
After catching a couple touchdowns in scrimmage play during practice, many within IU’s coaching staff have said Dorris has been a standout in fall camp so far.
“Austin Dorris has had a really good fall camp,” Coach Tom Allen said. “I think he’s probably been the most improved of that group.”
Dorris credits the strength work he’s done in the offseason with IU’s new director of athletic performance David Ballou as being a main factor in his improvement.
And his coaches have been taking notice.
“He really worked hard this summer and really improved his speed,” said Mike DeBord, offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. “So, he’s playing a lot better that way and he’ll be a guy that plays for us.”
However, even with Dorris and some of his fellow tight ends impressing coaches this offseason, one thing is for sure — it’ll be a group effort in 2018.
With that large array of skill sets, IU will be looking to have a deep and balanced group at the position, with multiple players getting snaps during games.
It’ll make for a stark contrast from last season where the majority of reps went to Ian Thomas, who is now playing professionally for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
“It’s good to see more than just one guy out there because we would have Ian coming off the field last year and he was just toasted because he’d been out there for four straight quarters,” Dorris said. “It definitely gives you a level of confidence to know you’re not going to have 90 plays a game. You could have the 20 to 30 range and you’re going to be full-speed, running hard as you can and have a fresh mind out there.”
Whether it’s on the field or playing Fortnite, the tight ends have shown their strengths and weaknesses. Even in another one of their team-bonding activities, a Snapchat group shared between them, each has an expertise.
Hendershot is the selfie-taker. Bonner is the funniest.
With the diversity of skill sets and personalities in place, Dorris said there is one final step as the Hoosiers near their season-opener on Sept. 1 at Florida International — translating it on to the field.
“Everyone’s done that," Dorris said. "No one slacked off or no one’s undermined one another. It’s just a great group.”
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