Aaron Steinfeldt stood on the sidelines as Indiana football warmed up to face the University of Cincinnati. With a boot on his foot, the freshman tight end watched his teammates jump to an early lead before giving it up and losing 38-24.
He traveled to Iowa for week one, but didn’t appear on the field. He sprained his foot two days later in practice and has missed four games since.
The boot is off just in time for Indiana’s Homecoming game against No. 11 Michigan State, but for the tight end who was a two-time all-state selection while at Bloomington High School North, he doesn’t have to go very far to return home.
Steinfeldt could’ve had his pick of colleges and his pick of sports.
He was a three-sport athlete in high school at Bloomington North — a four-time letter winner in football, a four-time letter winner in baseball. Basketball was his hobby, and he only lettered three times.
His first passion was baseball. He started on the high school varsity team as a freshman and quickly began earning offers from Division I programs.
“Baseball was my ride-or-die sport,” Steinfeldt said. “My sophomore year I grew to 6’5”, 225 pounds, and I was like ‘Alright, I’m making the switch to football.’”
Steinfeldt began playing football his freshman year of high school. His coach at Bloomington North, Scott Bless, said Steinfeldt’s natural athleticism allowed him to quickly develop into a talented player.
“He’s a great athlete,” Bless said. “One of the things about football is it doesn’t require a lifetime skillset, it requires athletic ability and hard work and toughness, and he has all of those in spades.”
Bless said Steinfeldt’s catching ability was the first part of the game to develop. He started playing as a receiver before his size allowed him to improve as a blocker, so his skills fit the tight end position. His hands never went away and were key in his bolstered recruiting profile.
Aaron Steinfeldt began to fall in love with football and his recruiting conversations with college baseball coaches pushed him further to the gridiron.
“I just made that natural switch,” Steinfeldt said. “I turned all my attention to football while also being able to play basketball and baseball for fun with my buddies.”
His senior year, he had the chance to play with his younger brother Aidan Steinfeldt for the first time. Aidan, a tight end who recently received an offer to play football at Indiana, quickly became a student under Aaron.
“As a player, Aaron was a really good mentor, not just to Aidan but to anybody who played that position,” Bless said. “Last year with Aaron as a senior and Aidan as a freshman, we played a lot of two tight end sets and I think Aaron did a great job of coaching him up.”
When Aidan scored his first varsity touchdown last year, Aaron immediately ran on the field to celebrate with him — and got penalized for not having his helmet on.
Aaron mentored his brother on how to play tight end, how to run routes and how to block. Even though Steinfeldt is at college, he’s not far from home, and the brothers regularly text about the game and watch film together.
“They do a real nice job of engaging each other,” Jesse Steinfeldt, Aaron’s dad, said. “It hasn’t been a case where Aaron’s overbearing or Aidan doesn't want to hear it. Aidan is soaking it all up.”
Jesse was a three-sport athlete himself at Yale University, playing football, basketball and baseball while earning his degree. After graduating, he signed a professional football contract with the Vålerenga Trolls of Norway and played three sports in Europe at the professional level.
Jesse Steinfeldt came to Indiana in 2007 and began teaching sports psychology, something that helped him when Aaron was making his college decision.
“I tell sports parents, the best thing you can do, even if you have great advice for your kids, is let them come to you and let them ask you,” Jesse Steinfeldt said. “I was able to follow my own advice, and Aaron would approach me.”
As a senior, Steinfeldt’s recruiting hit a wall because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He had earned offers from Cincinnati, Boise State University and the University of Virginia, but he couldn’t take official visits to the schools.
Indiana, located in his hometown where his dad worked, became even more enticing than it already was. Steinfeldt chose to stay home in Bloomington.
“I think had he visited all those places, he still would have circled back and chose Indiana,” Jesse Steinfeldt said.
Not only did Indiana offer him a chance to grow in a family-oriented environment under football coach Tom Allen, but baseball coach Jeff Mercer spoke with Steinfeldt about continuing as a two-sport athlete in college.
Ultimately, Steinfeldt decided to stick to football. After spending a month on campus, he realized it would be too much work.
“The full college realm, especially with sports, is like night and day from high school,” Steinfeldt said.
The Steinfeldts love cooking dinners for Indiana’s tight ends room.
Last week, Steinfeldt’s mom made them pork taquitos and chicken enchiladas with cilantro rice. In the past, she’s made tacos and pasta with meatballs. The Steinfeldts’ house is too far for the players to regularly eat dinner there, but the tight ends often eat together at one of their apartments.
For Aaron Steinfeldt, who has lived in Bloomington since he was 7 years old, going to college 20 minutes from home means he has a better understanding of the city than his teammates. He also has the chance to eat a home-cooked meal any day, but he tries not to rely on that too much.
“Before I was trying to live at home for the year but living in the dorms, I’ve just experienced different aspects (of college),” Steinfeldt said. “It teaches me skills like discipline. Do I eat out every day, do I stay home and cook? It’s taught me a lot about being an adult.”
After a rocky 2-3 start to the season for Indiana, the tight ends have bonded even more as a group. Beyond their dinners together, they teach each other more about football.
Steinfeldt has become a mentee to senior Peyton Hendershot and sophomore AJ Barner, and said his football knowledge has expanded rapidly since getting to IU. He’s learned about how to take a quick first step and how to lay down a good block.
“Before I did not know any of that,” Steinfeldt said. “I was like a chicken with its head cut off.”
On Oct. 6, Steinfeldt brought the tight ends, including tight ends coach Kevin Wright, to Tri-North Middle School’s football game to support Drew Hipskind, the son of Andy Hipskind, Indiana’s Chief Medical Officer who recently died.
“Here’s nine big time college kids who are just there watching a football game,” Jesse Steinfeldt said. “It was a really neat moment. Coach Wright has done a great job of building that culture in the tight end room.
Steinfeldt is likely to redshirt his freshman season, but he can play up to four games and still have the redshirt take effect. Michigan State might be the first time he sees action.
Aaron Steinfeldt’s brother will be in the stands for homecoming on an unofficial visit to Indiana, cheering Steinfeldt on while being recruited by Indiana’s coaches. The rest of his family will be there too, the way they traveled to Iowa and will most assuredly travel to Maryland.
Family matters to Steinfeldt. It’s why the culture at Indiana was so appealing to him during his recruiting, and why he’s taken to Allen’s Love Each Other culture so quickly. It’s why the tight ends choose to eat dinner together and why they visited Tri-North to support the extended Indiana family.
When Indiana takes the field for homecoming, his parents and brother will be in the stands and his new family will be with him on the sidelines.