Indiana football fans remember all too well the sixth game of the 2014 season.
IU was on the road at Iowa looking to build on a victory over Missouri a few weeks before and get back in the hunt for a bowl game. It was Oct. 11 and the Hoosiers would eventually lose to the Hawkeyes, 45-29.
But the only thing people really remember from that game was junior quarterback Nate Sudfeld lying in a heap in the middle of field after a sack and walking to the sideline with his left arm (his non-throwing arm) hang loosely to his side.
It was later diagnosed as a separated shoulder and Sudfeld was done for the season. IU would go on to finish 1-5 in the last six games with true freshman Zander Diamont at the helm and out of the postseason picture once again.
This week, AllHoosiers.com had a one-on-one with Sudfeld and covered a variety of topics. Here’s the results of that interview.
ALLHOOSIERS: How much do you remember about the injury itself or is it something you’ve tried to block from your mind?
SUDFELD: “I remember it pretty vividly. I stepped up in the pocket and kind of got grabbed. It didn’t feel like that bad of a hit. I kind of got thrown down and I landed on it hard. I felt a lot of pressure. Not specifically on my shoulder. I wasn’t sure what had happened. I was just kind of feeling like something was wrong. I walked off the field and kind of assessed my body and realized I couldn’t move my left arm. They worked on it on the sidelines and tried to pop it back in but again it makes me appreciate the game more and makes me more excited to go out there this year.’’
ALLHOOSIERS: It has been a little over six months since that Iowa game. You’re back out here in spring football and you look strong. But how do you feel? Are you close to a 100 percent and if so how long have you felt that way?
SUDFELD: “I feel like 100 percent with what we have done. We’ll see when we take hits but I don’t have to do that for a while. Since we have done spring ball I haven’t felt limited. I have caught all my snaps. I’ve handed everything off. I’ve used my left hand. But I haven’t had to be challenged with being hit and stuff and that is definitely going to be another milestone that I’m going to have to overcome. But just in spring ball and everything I’ve been very happy with how I have felt.’’
ALLHOOSIERS: How has your routine changed either pre or post practice. Are you having to spend more time icing it, that kind of thing?
SUDFELD: “That was kind of my rehab/prehab before I got hurt with my right shoulder icing after practice every day. But it’s definitely something where I get here earlier in the morning that I did before. I warm up my shoulders and do some exercises to warm them up. It has been beneficial. Doing that extra with my left has been good for my right because my right feels extra warmed up when we come out to practice and then I ice them both down after. It has been a pretty good little system.’’
ALLHOOSIERS:: Often times with injuries like this one, people talk about the bigger hurdle is the mental side of things. Thinking about the injury and wondering what will happen when you get hit. Not being sure if you’ll be able to return to where you were before the injury, that kind of thing. How has it been for you?
SUDFELD: “I really don’t think about it at all which is really good. I don’t think it could be set up more perfect for a quarterback coming off this injury. My shoulder feels great and then coming out here in a blue jersey (quarterbacks are not hit in the spring) so I’ve been limited there, too. But physically it feels good and I’m throwing the ball well. And then mentally I don’t think I ever really lost a step. I think I’ve gotten a lot better than I ever was before. I think that’s a credit to coach Wilson really pushing me.’’
ALLHOOSIERS: Everyone has always known what a tremendous competitor you are. And then you go from this ultracompetitive person to having to watch from the sidelines for the final six games. How difficult was that for you?
SUDFELD: “It was very tough. It was challenging. It’s just different. You go from having so much to do with the outcome of the game and working so hard to get out there and the relationship with your guys and knowing that no matter how bad you want to play you just can’t. And definitely, as I said before, it makes you appreciate it more. At the same time you don’t want to go through it again and you’re glad to be out of it. It’s good to be back with the guys. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It’s a tough part of sports.’’
ALLHOOSIERS: There’s no question that Zander Diamont stepped into a nearly impossible situation going from a player who figured he would redshirt to starting the final six games of the season. His first game out was on national television against Michigan State. Did you serve as kind of a mentor for him, showing him the ropes a little bit from the side?
SUDFELD: “I don’t know about the word ‘mentor’. I tried to help him as much as I could. It was a tough deal for a while. I was kind of out of it just for the first week or so and then I was trying to rehab it and I was spending a lot of time in the (training room). But every chance I had I would try to help him. I’m so proud of him of how he stepped up in such a tough situation. I think he did a great job. It was so tough for a freshman who had no real offseason to really get good reps and stuff like that. I tried to help him out but I thought he really kept improving and it has shown this spring.’’
ALLHOOSIERS: How difficult is it to believe that your senior year in college has arrived?
SUDFELD: “I can’t believe it at all. I’m set to graduate this December and it seems surreal. It seems like I was just that freshman in that summer when I got here hoping to get some 7-on-7 reps with the guys older than me and try to earn respect with my teammates and stuff and now I’m kind of the older guy trying to be the leader. It is completely hard for me to even believe.
ALLHOOSIERS: You hail from Modesto, Calif. and now you’ve spent four years of your life in Indiana. Do you feel like you’re a Hoosier?
SUDFELD: “Absolutely. I definitely feel like I’m an adopted Hoosier. People have been so great to me ever since I was a freshman coming out here just welcoming me into the community and introducing me as a Hoosier. My family is still in California and I’ll always be a California kid but I’m thankful I’m a Hoosier, too.
ALLHOOSIERS: You’ve had some big individual numbers in three years here including throwing for more than 2,100 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore. But IU hasn’t been to a bowl game in your three seasons at IU. Do you feel like the pieces are in place for that bowl run or is it too early to tell?
SUDFELD: “I absolutely think the pieces are in place and I’ve felt that for a while now. I’ve felt like it has been on us players not being consistent and not executing. We’ve had the talent. We’ve had the work ethic. We just haven’t made the plays in years past. But absolutely. It will be a complete disappointment if we don’t do something really special this year.
ALLHOOSIERS: Two years ago you had receivers that went up and made plays. Last year your receivers were a little more undersized. How would you assess the strength of this group?
SUDFELD: “The strength of this receiving class is they are so hungry and they are so coachable. After every play they’ll ask me, ‘Hey did I do that OK? Did you like that? Should I run that route higher?’ This and that. They’re really trying to push to get on the same page as us quarterbacks which has been awesome for us. Watching extra film has been big, too. They take pride in their position. The receiver position at IU has been very prolific and we do have the guys this year that can go up and make the plays and we just need to do it at a consistent level.’’
ALLHOOSIERS: Individually, how would you assess your own spring to date?
SUDFELD: “Personally I think it has gone really well. I have kind of knocked off most if not all the rust. I still haven’t taken a full blown snap with guys running after me to hit me but that will come in time. I’m pretty happy to be back like I am but at the same time I see a lot of room for improvement as a leader. I need to get my tempo better and be more on time with my throws. Just little things like that. I’m excited to finish up working in the spring and take it all into the summer.