Bloomington – With the start of IU football camp now just two weeks away, IU Coach Bill Lynch heads into his third full season feeling good about what he's seen this off-season.
It's not what he's seen on the field, since coaches aren't permitted to view off-season workouts, but rather off the field. After a very disappointing 3-9 campaign last fall, Lynch says he's noticed a difference in leadership as the team has readied for the 2009 season.
"The leadership of the football team has been so different for this football team," Lynch said earlier this summer.
That has come in large part from a group of seniors that had its biggest name, Kellen Lewis, dismissed from the team in the spring. But even without the record-setting quarterback, Lynch is very encouraged by what he's seen and what he thinks he can get from his crop of 17 seniors.
"This year, we've had a lot of (seniors) that have played a lot of football, so they understand what playing Big Ten football is all about," Lynch said. "Those guys have worked hard and taken ownership of the football team, and it means a lot to them."
While Lewis might have been the most recognizable name among the crop of seniors, there's plenty of experienced players preparing for their final go-around in an IU uniform on both sides of the ball. On offense, Roger Saffold and Pete Saxon are both fourth-year starters. On defense, projected starters Jammie Kirlew, Greg Middleton, Will Patterson, Matt Mayberry, Austin Thomas, Nick Polk and Ray Fisher are all well schooled in what's in store for the upcoming campaign.
Add in others such as Justin Carrington, Bryan Payton, Demetrius McCray and Troy Wagner, among others, and there's no shortage of experience in the senior class.
Lynch said that group has taken its role as leaders very seriously.
"When leadership is coming from the guys that have played a lot and have a lot invested in it, that's a good sign," Lynch said.
The Hoosier coach says this group of seniors as some similarities to the 2007 group that played a big role in leading the program to its first bowl berth since 1993. While Lewis and James Hardy and Austin Starr might be the names that people remember the most, there were other less-heralded players who helped lay the groundwork for that season's success.
"You have a guy like (reserve offensive lineman Sean) Edmundson, here's a guy who's role was extra point and field goal," Lynch said. "But he worked his butt off every day because it was important to him."
It was also important to players like Adam McClurg, Charlie Emerson, Josiah Sears, Brian Faires, Nick Sexton and Michael Hines, all of whom put in the work in the off-season to make a big impact in their final seasons in IU uniforms. That's how it ultimately worked out for those players and that team, and Lynch sees a similar approach with this senior class.
"The '07 team had some really good seniors on that team, guys that did their part to help make that a successful football team," Lynch said.
"You're a good football team when your seniors have their best years. And our seniors have put in the time and hours this off-season to do that as well."
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