It won't be the same quarterback under center this season for the Hoosiers.
Blake Powers is sure of it.
Odds are when Indiana lines up for its Sept. 2 opener against Western Michigan, it will still be No. 14 calling the shots for Coach Terry Hoeppner's offensive attack. But with a year of experience under his belt and a very important off-season camp experience fresh on his mind, the 6-4, 235-pound Powers is sure he'll be much improved from 2005.
Powers is coming off a solid sophomore season, completing 212-of-376 passes for 2,305 yards and a school-record 22 touchdowns. But after a explosive start that saw him throw 18 touchdowns in the Hoosiers' first five games, Powers threw only four more in the final seven games of the season and finished with a league-high 16 interceptions.
For all of the big numbers he did amass a season ago, Powers admits his first season in charge was a learning experience.
"The first year starting, you go into a lot of those hostile stadiums, it gets under your skin a little bit, no matter how poised you think you are," Powers said. "That's a pretty challenging thing to deal with mentally. This year, I think it will be a lot easier for me to focus in on the game."
But it's not only experience that Powers has on his resume now – there's also a newfound level of confidence that might have been lacking a year ago.
That confidence was acquired over the summer at the 11th annual Manning Passing Academy, a youth camp organized by Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning that is held on the campus of Nicholls State University. More than 1,000 youngsters from around the country travel to the Thibodeaux, La., campus to learn from the Mannings, other NFL players and a handful of elite college players.
Powers was among those college standouts who was in attendance. Besides working with the children during the day, the Hoosiers' signal caller also had a chance to learn from the Mannings and John Elway (whose son was attending the camp) among others, about the intricacies of the position.
"Being around guys like Peyton, Eli and John Elway, I was trying soak up as much knowledge as possible," Powers said.
While the physical tools of the Mannings and Elway are obvious, Powers said his emphasis was trying to learn from the trio about the mental part of the game and playing the position.
"The biggest thing I took away from it was how to get guys to follow you," Powers said. "We talked a great deal about leadership skills, and I've been told I have a natural ability to be a leader.
"I also took away a lot about how to mentally prepare each week, how to study an opponent on film like Peyton and Eli do. They are two of the smartest quarterbacks in the league, so learning from them about how they approach each week was huge."
While Powers' trip to the Manning Passing Academy gave him a chance to learn some tricks of the quarterbacking trade, it also provided him with an opportunity to test his skills against some of the nation's top quarterbacks. Among the things they did was workout in front of a handful of NFL scouts, and Powers more than held his own against the likes of Florida's Chris Leak, LSU's Marcus Randall and Michigan State's Drew Stanton.
"We got to throw in front of the scouts, routes on air, and that's all about what you have physically – there is no one around you to make you look better," Powers said. "It's all about your skills, and I felt like I threw better than everyone there and I felt I was one of the best ones there, and I think the scouts told me that as well."
Few have ever questioned Powers' physical tools, but the summer experience will only go to bolster his confidence as he prepares for his second season as the Hoosiers' starter.
IU Assistant Coach Bill Lynch said Powers' effort at the Manning Passing Academy should do wonders for his self-confidence.
"I think it can be great for him," Lynch said. "Just to all of a sudden realize that ‘I do things just like those guys, and maybe I do some things better than those guys,' in an environment when they're alone and not surrounded by all the other players around them that in some cases that make those guys look even better.
"I think from a confidence level it has to do a great deal, especially a guy like that who's really good. If you're not very good, it might destroy your confidence. But Blake can hold his own with anyone."
Lynch and the Hoosier coaching staff has known that since they arrived a year and a half ago, and Powers is beginning to believe it as well. While he might not be attracting the sort of national attention that Leak, Randall, or a handful of other college quarterbacks are this pre-season, the NFL scouts he talked to said not to worry.
"After the camp was over, (the scouts) told me to keep my head up, keep trying to improve, and not to worry about what the press and media says," Powers said. "Don't get too involved with who gets the most publicity – just worry about getting better and help your team win games.
"Control the controllables, and that's what I'm going to try to do. I came away from that camp with a lot of confidence, knowing I can go out there with the best in the country and hold my own."
Camp Trip Has Powers Brimming with Confidence
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