Bloomington – Justin Pagan's first season at IU was supposed to be spent on the northeast practice field.
After all, that's where the scout team toils on most afternoons. While the first and second string units spend most of their time banging heads on the west field, true freshmen like Pagan can usually be found on the adjacent field, working out under the watchful eyes of IU's graduate assistant coaches, focusing their attention on getting ready for next year.
That's where Pagan could be found until two weeks ago, when IU Coach Bill Lynch said he was going to get Pagan ready to potentially play. After working with the No. 2s during the Minnesota week, Pagan saw his first game action Saturday against Iowa. The 6-5, 308-pounder from Chicago spent time at both right and left tackle and played approximately 30 snaps.
"It's really exciting (to play)," Pagan said. "At the beginning of the year I was like, ‘I'm going to do my job whether I'm on the scout team or on the 2s. I might get in, I might not."
While Pagan has been a quick study according to his position coach Bobby Johnson, he's also been aided by the fact that he already has a 300-pound frame. While other members of the offensive line such as Mike Stark and Alex Perry had to use a year or two to fill out their frame, Pagan already looked the part when he first showed up on campus in the fall.
Now that he's gotten a taste of game action, it's a safe bet that he'll continue to play more and more during the final month and a half of the regular season. Lynch said earlier this year that he wouldn't squander a players' chance to redshirt if they were only going to play a handful of snaps, so the staff's decision to play Pagan starting in week six suggests his role will continue to expand in the coming weeks.
"I felt I had a chance (to play) as long as I worked hard, as long as I did my job, did what coach wanted, then I'd play," Pagan said.
The hope is that Pagan's presence can help to shore up an IU offensive line that hasn't lived up to expectations during the first six weeks of the season. Most expected improved play from the unit since five members of the "Seven Blocks of Limestone" were now in the starting lineup, but the unit as a hole has had its share of issues.
The problems have been particularly apparent since conference play opened. Indiana's offense is averaging only 15.0 points per game in those three losses, and it is producing only 111.0 rushing yards per game.
It's a lot to ask of a true freshman to step in and somehow remedy those issues, and Pagan admits that the biggest challenge has been dealing with the speed of players on the collegiate level. But the St. Patrick's H.S. product doesn't seem awed by his role either.
"When I was on the sidelines (before entering against Iowa for the first time) I was nervous, but when I got out there and he called ‘hike', I was in the flow," Pagan said.
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New Face: Pagan Works Way Onto Field
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