The day that Terry Hoeppner has been waiting for has finally arrived.
At 5 p.m. today, Indiana's 2005 Hoosier football team will take to the practice field for the first time. It is the first day of the nearly three-week long fall camp that will culminate on Aug. 27, one week before the Sept. 2 season opener at Central Michigan.
For Hoeppner, it will be a welcome change from a summer that's been anything but a vacation. He's appeared in nearly 50 official IU functions since taking the job Dec. 17, all in an effort to drum up support for the program and to put more fans in the seats this fall.
While Hoeppner has been a willing participant in promoting the program, he admits he's looking forward to replacing the microphone and podium with a whistle and clipboard.
"I can't wait for practice to start," said Hoeppner. "I get to coach football – that's going to be a good change."
Truth be told, Hoeppner has been waiting for this opportunity for much longer than just the eight months that he's been in Bloomington as IU's head coach. The 58-year-old coach has long dreamed of the opportunity to coach in the Big Ten, and more specifically at Indiana.
"This is fantastic – truly a dream come true," said Hoeppner. "I've always been a Big Ten fan, especially an Indiana University fan. So the opportunity is truly, truly special."
Hoeppner will be working with a team that is coming off a 3-8 mark last season, which culminated in the dismissal of Gerry DiNardo after three years in Bloomington. Hoeppner inherits a team that returns 13 starters, including seven on defense.
While Hoeppner and his largely new staff did have an opportunity to work with the returnees during spring drills, today's practice will mark the debut of 23 true freshmen, some of whom will have an opportunity to work their way onto the field this season. It's a team that Hoeppner says he's excited about, but one that he's still getting to know.
"I like the team – I've given them an A for the attitude from day one," said Hoeppner. "It is hard to get to know them – until we get through the first season together, the learning curve will continue. But I like the team."
One of the things Hoeppner likes the most about his first IU squad is what he has on the defensive side of the ball. Hoeppner built his Miami (Ohio) defenses with sometimes undersized players who made up for that with excellent speed, and he thinks he has some players back in Bloomington that fit that mold.
"Defensively, they fit what we want to do," said Hoeppner.
While Hoeppner likes some of the tools he has returning on defense, he also knows that there are plenty of questions that need to be answered. Indiana must settle on a quarterback, as junior Graeme McFarland and sophomore Blake Powers head into fall camp in a dead heat for the starting job. At wide receiver, Indiana lost three of its top four pass catchers, including the school's all-time leader, Courtney Roby. Finding a handful of reliable wideouts is a must for Hoeppner's spread formation, which usually includes three wideouts on the field.
Improved play on the defensive line and on special teams is also big as Indiana prepares for the start of the season, and Hoeppner will begin working toward answering those questions this afternoon.
But as he's been ever since he was introduced as IU's 26th head coach by Athletic Director Rick Greenspan, Hoeppner remains optimistic about what this team can do this year, and what the program can do long term.
"If you think you can or you think you can't you're right, I think we can be a successful program," said Hoeppner. "I'm not going to put limits on this team. I really believe we can do it."
Football Camp Opens Today
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