Bloomington – Even the most wildly optimistic Hoosier football fan knows that sometime during the 2009 season Coach Bill Lynch's team will have something to deal with.
Maybe it will be when it ventures away from Memorial Stadium for the first time to take on a high-scoring Akron Zips team Sept. 19. Perhaps it will be the following week when it travels to Ann Arbor to face a Michigan team that it hasn't beaten in 22 years. It could even come during the next couple of weeks if a key player is lost to an injury during fall camp.
Every season, every team has to figure out a way to cope with injuries or upsets or distractions or some other unexpected development that threatens to sidetrack the team.
This year's Indiana football team knows this as well, and their focus is to make sure they handle it better than last year's team did.
"It was obvious last year when we went through some adversity, there was a big empty hole missing," junior quarterback Ben Chappell said Thursday.
What was missing was the kind of leadership to help the team navigate through the rash of injuries and other off-the-field distractions that contributed to a disappointing 3-9 season. Indiana's fortunes started to head south after a 42-20 loss to Ball State in week three, and things never got turned around as IU lost nine of its final 10 games.
"Last year there were young guys and some were leaders, but we were leaving it to the seniors to really push the team," said senior Jammie Kirlew. "Some seniors did, but I don't think there were enough of them to get the team going in the right direction."
The team's fortunes never did turn around, and suddenly the team's 2007 Insight Bowl appearance appeared more like an aberration instead of a sign of a program on the rise. This year's senior class knows another bottom-of-the-Big-Ten result will only offer further evidence that this is the same old Indiana program that fans have grown accustomed to over the last 18 years, and their mission is to not make the same mistakes last year's group did.
"I said to myself at the end of last season, ‘this isn't going to happen next year," said Kirlew, one of the team's few bright spots with 10 ½ sacks and 19 ½ tackles for loss last season. "We got together, all the seniors, and said this isn't going to happen to us."
The first step in turning those words into deeds was making a commitment to being on campus for the summer to workout with teammates and make strides in the weight room. Kirlew estimated 70 percent of the team was in Bloomington this summer, and Chappell said it was the best summer attendance since he's been on campus.
"We've always stressed (staying on campus in the summer), but it's not mandatory," IU Coach Bill Lynch said. "You can stress it all you want, but if it's not mandatory they have to make the decision they're going to do it, and this group made the decision they're going to do it."
One of the reasons for that is the example that players like Kirlew and Chappell have set. Both are clearly two of the team's leaders on the field and in the locker room, and their approach is being emulated by many of the younger players.
"We have such good leadership at the top, and it starts there," Lynch said. "If they make a commitment to do it the younger guys will follow suit."
But no matter how many hours were spent in the weight room and how many snaps were taken on the practice field, that's hardly enough to keep this year's football team from having to cope with the ebb and flow of a college football season. What the challenges will be and when they'll arise is anyone's guess.
"We'll see what happens this year when we face a little adversity," Chappell said.
Seniors Don't Plan to Make Same Mistakes
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