A member of Sporting News' Big Ten All-Freshman Team two years ago, junior linebacker Jake Powers now realizes that competing for a starting job has gotten a lot harder under Coach Terry Hoeppner.
"It's weird - I was just a freshman a couple of years ago and now I'm a junior," said Powers. "I'm an upperclassman and I'm competing for a starting job. It's always a competition. Kyle Killion and John Pannozzo are born linebackers and now we have kids under them that are just as good as them or will be just as good as them. Then you have me and Josh Moore who are both in the same position – we're upperclassmen battling to get in there."
Both Powers and Moore have starting experience. Powers earned his first career start as a freshman against Ohio State, and was a regular contributor the rest of the season. Last year, Powers started five games and finished with 22 tackles. Moore, meanwhile, started six games in 2003 and finished with 68 tackles, which ranked fourth on the team.
Moore missed the end of the '03 season with a knee injury and all of the '04 campaign after former coach Gerry DiNardo kicked him off the squad. He's since returned, making the outside linebacker position one of the most hotly-contested spots during fall camp.
Powers knows he has his work cut out for him to work his way onto the field, but he also knows that the competition will make both linebackers – and the team – better.
"It's just a big competition right now on both sides of the ball," said Powers. "I don't know how much of it is from Hoeppner taking over, all I know is we're competing a lot right now because we're looking forward to winning and bringing good attention to Indiana football."
Powers does admit the competition may be getting to some of the players because they are working so hard to help this Hoosier squad turn the corner. Even though the occasional shoving match may break out in practice, he doubts it could hurt the team chemistry.
"Teammates fighting is something most people don't get to see, but it's something that happens when you have so much competition in practice," said Powers. "It's funny because you can have that fight in practice and ten minutes later those guys are sitting next to each other having dinner. The competition is unreal right now. We're a very close team and you can see everyone is almost getting stressed out because there is so much competition.
"I think it's bringing out some of the best play we've seen out of some guys and we leave it all on the field. Me, Kyle, and John are best friends, we all go hunting and fishing together. It's like a brotherhood."
Powers is not only excited about his future but the future of the Hoosiers. He knows how important recruiting is and is excited by what he has seen from Coach Hoeppner's first recruiting class at Indiana. Among the newcomers are a couple of linebackers who are expected to be very good players down the road, including outside linebacker Geno Johnson, a 6-2, 200-pounder who has bee impressive early on.
"This class we just got is obviously underweight and undersized right now, but there is a lot of talent in that group," said Powers. "I think it was a great class and the class before them you can see they are already gaining weight and catching up with us upperclassmen. It creates even more competition which is good."
With less than two weeks left before the season starts, Powers is excited about what could be ahead this fall.
"I can't wait because I know there's going to be a lot more people filling the seats," said Powers, a product of Danville (Ind.) H.S. "I came from a small high school and even when the whole school was there that was still only like 400 or 500 people. You go everywhere else like the Big House and you see packed stands. I think we're going to be able to do that here.
"It's going to be like Christmas every Saturday because we're going to have fans in the stands everywhere. A lot of talk is getting started and we want to live up to it. We want to keep up the promises Coach Hoeppner is making."
Those promises include winning, something Powers and the rest of the Hoosiers are more than ready for.
"We've all been playing together for a while and I think we all just want to win," said Powers. "We're sick of losing and we want to get this show on the road. We're ready to start it up."
Competition Pushing Powers
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