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IU’s newcomers create optimism

Associated Press
Indiana head football coach Kevin Wilson speaks at Big Ten football media day Wednesday.

– Indiana is a more experienced team than it has been since Kevin Wilson took the reins three years ago.

But the reason the Hoosiers could reach a bowl game this season – the reason fans, and players are excited – is the batch of incoming freshmen on defense.

“I don’t think anybody’s safe with a spot right now,” senior safety Greg Heban said Wednesday at Big Ten Media Days. “Coach Wilson always talks about how he’s not going to play a senior over a freshman. It’s whoever’s the better player is going to play. The upperclassmen now realize how good of a freshman class we have coming in. That’s going to spark them a little bit.”

And it has.

A class ranked among the top 50 in the nation was built primarily on defensive talent. Now that those players are in Bloomington – albeit without pads to this point – the buzz is building.

“They are serious, serious business,” wide receiver Kofi Hughes said. “We get excited watching guys just because they’re just so advanced.

“The great thing is that they’re so talented and they’re not coming in cocky. They’re listening. They’re getting even better.”

The Hoosiers finished last in the Big Ten in total defense during their 2012 season, which ended with a 4-8 record. Indiana finished second in the conference in total offense but were mostly unable to stop opponents.

That might change this season, thanks in large part to underclassmen.

“Defensively, our best players will be our young players, freshmen and sophomores,” Wilson said. “We are, though, a veteran team. I think we’re going to be fifth or sixth in the country with returning guys with starts. So we do have guys that are battle tested.”

That, along with young playmakers, could get the Hoosiers past two abysmal seasons and make IU relevant in the Big Ten.

The defense has looked different in seven-on-seven practices and team-run workouts, as well, Hughes said.

“I don’t think they were very confident in what they were doing,” during the season, Hughes said. “It was still very relatively new. Now, everybody’s comfortable, everybody knows their reads and now guys can just play football.”

Freshmen like defensive tackle Darius Latham, safety Antonio Allen and cornerback Rashard Fant have stood out early on, but all of the newcomers have plenty to offer. Wilson expects most of the incoming players to either be at No. 1 or 2 on the depth chart or be on the fringes of that spot.

“They’re very strong, they’re big, they’re fast,” kicker Mitch Ewald said. “We’ve still got to see them put the pads on and go to work, but unbelievable talent – a lot of talent and high expectations.”