Bloomington, Ind. – Terry Hoeppner knew he had to recruit playmakers early and often if he wanted to turn around the Indiana football program. The second-year head coach appears to have done just that with four true freshmen seeing major playing time in Indiana's season opening 39-20 win over Western Michigan.
Linebacker William Patterson saw key minutes on the defensive side of the ball, while Ray Fisher made solid contributions for the offense as the Hoosiers scored the most points in Hoeppner's brief tenure at Indiana. The Hoosiers start the 2006 season with 49 redshirt and true freshmen on the roster of 105 players.
"We needed to play someone with the amount of newcomers we have on this team. We are a young football team," said Hoeppner. "That means we have a lot of room for improvement, but I think that's the good news."
Patterson finished the game with one solo tackle, a tackle for loss in the first quarter, but was able to roam the field in Hoeppner's new style of defense and found himself always around the ball.
"It was exciting just to be on the field," said Patterson. "It's like a totally different feeling from anything I've ever been through. I was a little nervous before the game just because it was my first time out there. I was just trying to get it out of my system tonight so I can be better prepared down the road.
"(My first tackle) was exciting. I don't think it was that big of a play, but to me it was exciting just because it was my first hit as a college player."
Fisher was one of Blake Powers' favorite targets in the first half catching three passes for 22 yards, including an 8-yard catch that he almost broke for a touchdown after breaking two tackles before being pulled down.
"At first I nervous because I didn't play a lot my senior year of high school because I had an ACL injury, but I slowly got into a rhythm and it turned out to be a good game," said Fisher. "I learned how important it is to be patient behind your blockers, look for a crease and when you see that crease – hit it.
"On the play where I almost scored, I was trying to stay on my feet but he grabbed me. I was thinking I just missed a touchdown. I was so excited, not just for the play, but for making it to this level. It feels so good just to play and almost scoring a touchdown was great."
Two more freshmen saw action on special teams as Mandela Roberts and Matt Mayberry helped the Hoosiers cover kickoffs and punts.
Hoeppner expected to use two freshmen on his offensive line during the game, with Pete Saxon and Rodger Saffold entering the game as backups on the depth chart.
"The offensive line is the most important position on the team," said Hoeppner during his weekley press conference on Aug. 29. "Additionally, the offensive line is the only position where you have to play five. We are ready to play 10.
"We have bragged about the freshmen offensive line. We did a good job recruiting that group. Two of them, Rodger Saffold and Pete Saxon, will play on Saturday. They are physically mature enough and have picked up the most challenging aspect of an offensive lineman, which is the mental part of the playing their position."
Neither Saffold or Saxon saw the field in Indiana's opening game, but should continue to add competition to the depth and see their way into some playing time. One thing for sure is Hoeppner's second recruiting class is definitely giving the Hoosiers hope for the future.
"I expect this to be a real great class," said Fisher. "We have a lot of talent and a lot of speed. Everyone wants the same thing – we want to win. It's going to take a lot of hard work and dedication, but this class is ready to do it.
"We came here to play and we're ready to do it."
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