Bloomington, Ind. – Will Meyers can remember when he first arrived on Bloomington's campus three years ago, a wide-eyed freshman with aspirations of making an immediate contribution in the Hoosiers' defensive backfield.
For the better part of three weeks, Meyers was inundated with meetings and two-a-day practices, all before he'd ever set foot in an Indiana University classroom. He remembers the schemes being more complex, the speed and size of the players being much different from what he was used to at the high school level.
"I loved it," Meyers says. "That was the funny part. I had a couple of (high school) friends who were playing at different places, and all the other freshmen were kind of missing home, but I absolutely loved it. I thought it was awesome.
"It was where I wanted to be, what I wanted to do."
On Monday, Meyers will be joined 104 players, including 22 scholarship freshmen, at the IU Practice Fields as the Hoosiers open fall camp. Indiana will take to the field at 5 p.m. for a 2 1/2-hour session, the first of five straight days they'll practice just once, per NCAA rules. The team's first two-a-day practice is Aug. 12, while Aug. 13 will be the team's first day in pads.
Indiana is hoping to take a step forward from its 4-7 record from a year ago, a season that saw IU jump to a 4-1 start before dropping its final six games. The Hoosiers return 13 starters, including the record-setting tandem of quarterback Blake Powers (212-of-376, 2,305 yards and 22 TDs in '05) and wide receiver James Hardy (61 receptions, 893 yards, 10 TDs).
There are plenty of questions in need of answers. The Hoosiers' offensive line remains unsettled, and the placekicking job is also very much up in the air. Demetrius McCray and Marcus Thigpen are battling for the starting tailback job, and a handful of true freshmen will be vying for spots on the two-deep at both offensive line and linebacker.
Monday evening's practice will provide the IU coaching staff with an opportunity to begin to answer some of those questions, as they get a first-hand look at what kind of progress the team has made in the off-season. Since the 2005 season came to a close with a 41-14 loss to Purdue in late November, the players have been in the weight room and on the practice field in an effort to prepare for the '06 campaign.
While the off-season is an often overlooked part of a team's progress, Powers says the work the team has put in over the last eight months will go a long way toward determining what kind of success IU has this fall.
"The summer workouts and the winter conditioning are huge," said Powers. "That's where you develop all your discipline, that's where you get the weight on, get faster and stronger."
Indications are many Hoosiers did just that. Among the projected contributors who added significant weight in the off-season are offensive lineman Kyle Thomas, up from 260 to 290; wide receiver Brandon Walker-Roby, up to 182 from 162; defensive tackle Emile Bass, up to 288 from 275; and defensive ends Jammie Kirlew (250 from 235) and Neal Jones (253 from 242).
"I think people seem to think we just pick it up in August and every August we pick it up again," Powers said. "That's not the case. You have to prepare yourself physically for football camp. It's grueling. The summer and winter are all about the physical conditioning and staying crisp mentally so the first day you're not catching up."
Nearly all of IU's returnees spent the summer in Bloomington preparing for fall camp, so they're expected to be ready for the rigors of the start of practice. The biggest unknown is with the true freshmen, who reported to camp Saturday. There will opportunities for IU's newcomers to work their way onto the field this fall, but which ones will be ready to contribute physically and mentally won't become clear until camp gets underway.
"I think as much as anything it's the adjustment to a new environment that makes it tough (for true freshmen)," IU Assistant Head Coach Bill Lynch said. "Maybe that's being away from home for the first time, being away from girlfriends, being away from mom and dad or whoever it is who is the security blanket back home, adjusting to the speed of college football. Each guy is different. Some guy you might think might take a little longer might jump out to you in day one."
Lynch, IU Coach Terry Hoeppner and the rest of the IU coaching staff will get a chance to see which of those newcomers might be ready to help, and which of the returnees are ready to make significant jumps from where they were a year ago. It's a three-week period that will go a long way in determining who will be lining up when the Hoosiers take on Western Michigan Sept. 2.
It's an important time, and an enjoyable one according to Meyers.
"You're playing football which I love to do, in a focused environment, which allows you to concentrate on what you need to do," Meyers said. "There's no school, no distractions. I love it."
Football Camp Opens Today
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