Youth Will Be Served By Hoeppner

Bloomington, Ind. - The marquee names on the IU roster might be James Hardy, Blake Powers and Will Meyers, but as IU prepares for Saturday's opener against Western Michigan, IU Coach Terry Hoeppner knows this year's team will rely a great deal on a plethora of youngsters...

Bloomington, Ind. – Terry Hoeppner doesn't appear overly worried about any youthful indiscretions Saturday.

As the second-year Hoosier coach prepares for Saturday's 6 p.m. season-opener against Western Michigan at IU's Memorial Stadium, he'll go into the contest with a slew of new faces making up the 2006 two-deep. Even some of those familiar faces, such as recently-converted right tackle Charlie Emerson, will be lined up at new positions.

In all, the Hoosiers' recently-released two-deep includes four true freshmen and nine redshirt freshmen, a fact that would keep most coaches awake at night.

But that's not the case with Hoeppner.

"I like it," Hoeppner said, "because the youthful enthusiasm and the quality of those that we have designated in the two-deep."

The youth is littered throughout the team, on both sides of the ball. While projected starting left guard Kyle Thomas is the only underclassmen on the No. 1 offensive line, the second unit includes a pair of true freshmen in left tackle Rodger Saffold and left guard Pete Saxon, both of whom Hoeppner said he expects to play.

At tailback, Hoeppner said he expects to use four in the contest with Western Michigan, three of whom haven't played a down at tailback in college (Marcus Thigpen, Demetrius McCray and Bryan Payton).

On defense, projected starting strong safety Austin Thomas and "Buck" Josh Bailey are both redshirt freshmen, and the entire second unit defensive line is made up of redshirt freshmen as well.

But Hoeppner appears confident the youth will be far outweighed by the speed, enthusiasm and ultimately the ability that his youngsters possess.

"We're going to have some growing pains with the young players and the new players we're playing," Hoeppner said. "So we have to overcome that with great enthusiasm and hustle. That's why I talk about us playing fast. Not just because fast teams are better teams, but especially on defense, you make up for a lot of shortcomings by getting there in a hurry and being in a bad mood when you get there."

One of the newcomers Hoeppner thinks epitomizes that is Austin Thomas, a 6-2, 210-pound redshirt freshman who emerged as a potential starter during spring practice. He's solidified that standing throughout fall camp, where he's been very good against the run and rapidly improving against the pass.

"Austin Thomas is a football player," Hoeppner said. "If you tell me after the game Saturday, ‘hey coach, you said I was going to notice Austin Thomas. I didn't notice him.'…It will be shocking if you don't notice No. 20 flying around making plays on the football field."

Those newcomers will work in with some established veterans such as quarterback Blake Powers, wide receiver James Hardy and free safety Will Meyers, among others, to take on a Western Michigan team that bounced back from a 1-10 season in 2004 to go 7-4 a season ago under coach Bill Cubit.

The Broncos will be without two of their biggest stars from a year ago in wide receiver Greg Jennings and tight end Tony Scheffler, but they do return a sixth-year starting quarterback in Ryan Cubit (the head coach's son) and a defense that is anchored by outside linebacker Ameer Ismail and strong safety Louis Delmas.

They'll also have the added motivation of being a MAC team with the opportunity of springing an upset against a Big Ten foe, something Hoeppner is well versed in.

"I've been there 19 years," Hoeppner said, referring to his time as an assistant coach and head coach at Miami (Ohio). "I've been in this stadium on the visitor's sideline. I know the attitude they'll bring, the confidence they'll play with."

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