BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Terry Hoeppner watched Marcus Thigpen's high school highlight tape and had one question about the decision to play him at wide receiver instead of tailback a year ago.
"What were we thinking?" joked the second-year Hoosier coach.
Actually, the decision to play the 5-9, 182-pounder from Detroit's Mumford H.S. at wideout instead of tailback was done in an effort to get him on the field. With senior tailbacks Chris Taylor and Yamar Washington returning last fall, the prospects for playing time in the offensive backfield were slim.
By contrast, wide receiver was a position of desperate need last fall. First of all, Hoeppner was bringing a pass-friendly offense with him from Miami (Ohio), one that often featured three or four wide receivers on the field. Secondly, Indiana had no proven commodities at wideout last fall, relying on a crop of wideouts that was primarily redshirt and true freshmen.
Thigpen responded with a solid freshman campaign, ranking second on the team with 32 catches for 432 yards and two touchdowns. He generally started as IU's slot receiver and had a couple of his best statistical games in the final month of the season, catching five passes for 86 yards against Minnesota Nov. 5 and then wrapping up his season with a six-catch, 98-yard effort against Purdue Nov. 19.
Indiana's needs, though, have done an about face. The emergence of players like James Hardy, James Bailey, Jahkeen Gilmore and Brandon Walker-Roby gave Hoeppner comfort about his receiving corps. Add in solid redshirt seasons for players such as Andrew Means and Nick Polk, and Hoeppner suddenly had more capable receivers than he knew what to do with.
That sent Hoeppner back to that high school tape of Thigpen, where he showed more than enough promise carrying the ball instead of catching it. As a high school senior he was tabbed as one of the top 50 players in Michigan after running for 1,785 yards and 20 touchdowns.
"You've got a guy who ran, on my clock, a 4.22 40 (yard dash) at 192 pounds," Hoeppner said. "If you put his highlight tape on from high school and watch him play running back, what were we thinking?"
That prompted Hoeppner and his staff to move Thigpen to tailback during the off-season, where he joins a talented but unproven group of ball carriers. He'll battle with redshirt freshmen Demetrius McCray, Justin Carrington and Bryan Payton for the chance to start and become Indiana's primary runner.
It's an opportunity Thigpen is excited about.
"It feels good," Thigpen said. "It's what I've been doing since I was eight years old. I'm ready to play right now. Just put the ball in my hands and let me do what I do best."
Thigpen Off and Running
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