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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

Indiana football’s Kurtis Rourke makes progress, Donaven McCulley ‘needs to pick it up’


BLOOMINGTON — Indiana football head coach Curt Cignetti didn’t have much to say Tuesday inside the Hoosiers’ team room at Memorial Stadium — but his few words hammered home several key points. 

Cignetti, donning a red pullover with Indiana’s white trident planted over his heart and the adidas logo on the other side of the zipper, spoke highly of new quarterback Kurtis Rourke. Star senior receiver Donaven McCulley didn’t receive the same treatment. 

Rourke, a redshirt senior who transferred to Indiana from Ohio University in December 2023, is the leader in the clubhouse to be the Hoosiers’ starting signal caller. 

Cignetti said he won’t say much about the quarterback rotation moving forward, as Rourke, redshirt sophomore Tayven Jackson and true freshman Tyler Cherry will compete for the job in fall camp. 

Still, Cignetti’s impressed with the progress Rourke has made during spring practice. 

“He just looks like, the last two practices, he’s been functioning,” Cignetti said. “Looking like a high-level quarterback.” 

The 6-foot-5, 222-pound Rourke is entering his sixth collegiate season. He’s two years removed from winning Mid-American Conference Offensive Player of the Year and earned second-team All-MAC honors this past campaign. 

Rourke is the decorated candidate. For Hoosier fans, Jackson offers familiarity, as he started five games last season and stayed with the program through the transition from Tom Allen, who was fired Nov. 26 after a 3-9 season, to Cignetti. 

Then, there’s Cherry — the highest-rated recruit in the Hoosiers’ 2024 recruiting class and the fifth-best recruit in program history, according to 247sports. 

Like Jackson, Cherry is a Greenwood, Indiana, native who went to Center Grove High School. Unlike Jackson, who’s taken some snaps with the first team alongside Rourke, Cherry has largely worked with the third team in camp — but Cignetti’s pleased with the traits he’s seen thus far. 

“He’s not ready,” Cignetti said. “He does throw the ball to the right guy a lot. The arm strength and accuracy need to improve, but for a freshman to come in and find the open receiver. Keep plugging along — he gets better every day. Have a great summer and fall camp, and let’s see.” 

Regardless of who ultimately wins the job, the Hoosiers’ quarterback will have no shortage of pass catchers at his disposal. 

McCulley earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2023 after catching 48 passes for 644 yards and six touchdowns, and he is expected to be the go-to option. Elijah Sarratt, who followed Cignetti from James Madison University, ranked No. 11 nationally with 1,191 receiving yards last season. 

There’s also E.J. Williams, a late-riser last season who made 20 receptions for 247 yards in the final four games, a trio of senior transfers in Miles Cross, Myles Price and Ke’Shawn Williams and returning redshirt sophomore Omar Cooper. 

Cignetti said Williams started the spring well but suffered a leg injury and missed the last three practices. He did individual work on the Hoosiers’ outside practice field alongside other injured players while the rest of the team worked indoors in Mellencamp Pavillion. 

Indiana’s receiving core is expected to be a strength this season, and through the first two weeks of spring practice, it has been. 

“I see a couple guys starting to really step up,” Cignetti said. “Sarratt, Miles Cross, Price has been good. Ke’Shawn when he’s out there. Cooper’s made some nice plays. Just a little more consistency.” 

McCulley, who worked with the second team Tuesday, is notably absent from the list — intentionally. 

“I think Donaven needs to pick it up a little bit,” Cignetti said. 

McCulley isn’t alone. The Hoosiers’ practices have been littered with mistakes, an expected side effect of installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. 

But pads and helmets are on, and as Indiana works toward its spring game April 18, Cignetti likes where his team is trending. 

“It is starting to look more like the practices we are accustomed to,” Cignetti said. “The energy level has been excellent. It was excellent Saturday, and it was excellent again today. So, we are making progress and walking off the field better.” 

Follow reporters Matt Press (@MattPress23) and Dalton James (@DaltonMJames) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana football offseason. 

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