Never a better time for Hoosier tight end Danny Friend to finally be healthy. With last year's duo of Anthony Corsaro and Michael Cooper lost to graduation and this year's backup Jordan Fuchs going down with a likely season ending injury, Friend stepped up Thursday night at Florida International.
The redshirt sophomore scored the team's first touchdown of the year, an early fourth quarter 21 yard reception. That regained the lead and jump started Indiana to a 34-13 win in Miami.
"He's a really hard worker and a solid player for us so to see him get the first touchdown of the season was a big deal and I am really proud of him," said All-American offensive guard Dan Feeney. "He's a blocking tight end and a receiving tight end. Having him in there is pretty much like having another tackle on the line.
"Always moves his feet, always tries to make his blocks. He's a good asset to have."
At 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, Friend is the biggest tight end on the Hoosier roster. Head coach Kevin Wilson singled him out as one of two offensive MVPs in the opener.
"Offense, thought we had two guys who played really strong, gave winning performances to, Danny Friend, who had seven knockdowns, two catches, touchdown at tight end. Other was Mike Majette, who had about a hundred yards of total offense," Wilson said.
After playing in all 12 games of the 2013 season as a true freshman, big things were expected for Friend in 2014. Instead a knee injury in preseason camp forced a medical redshirt. Then last season he went down for the year after getting injured at Wake Forest in September.
"I thought his injury last year was a little bit more significant than people thought. Big guy, solid, steady, not a flashy guy," Wilson said on Monday.
Friend was obviously excited about scoring his first career touchdown and being a big part of the victory.
"It was a lot of fun," Friend said. "Lot of fun to be out there and play an entire game and help the team like I know I have been able to."
He played a part in Indiana making key second half adjustments on the line.
"They (FIU) were in a different front, different coverage looks. Had to make a lot of adjustments," Wilson said. "We have four fifth-year senior linemen, several returning starters. Danny is a fourth-year kid. The running back has experience. So they handled a lot of adjustments really, really well, from what we thought we would get and what we got."
"It's really easy to make adjustments," Friend said. "A lot of those guys have played (a lot). I've seen different fronts and stuff from watching (a lot of) film. It was really easy to make those adjustments with coach (Greg) Frey, coach (James) Patton and coach Wilson all talking about them. We went out there and made those adjustments and started to make more ground in the second half."
Jordan Fuchs was seen as an ideal complement this year to Friend but Indiana will have to make different plans. The athletic Fuchs, who played some with the IU basketball team, went down with a dislocated ankle in Miami.
“He'll have a surgery Tuesday,’’ Wilson said on Monday. “From that, we’ll get a feel for a timeline. It's going to be a significant timeline. But does it go through the season? If it does, he has a redshirt year. We’ll just see how it plays out.’’
Friend is confident in Dorris.
"From day one he has developed exponentially.," Friend said. "We play to the whistle, that is something coach Patton preaches, what we work on in practice, and you saw him do that in the game last Thursday."
It's a steep learning curve since Dorris was mainly a quarterback in high school.
"He's a pretty good athlete," Friend said. "He can run a little bit. Put on quite a bit of weight since he's been here. He's had too, obviously, because of the position change, but the more he learns to play within himself, and stays fundamentally sound and the more he'll be able to help us."
The next challenge for Friend and company is a Ball State team that has beaten the Hoosier three straight times.
"We're not focused on the past, we're focused on us right now and Ball State is just our next opponent."