CHICAGO — Damarlo Belcher reaps the rewards of his receiving potential, but Indiana coach Kevin Wilson wants more.
Consistent dominance is a good place to start.
“Damarlo has a chance to be an upper-level guy,” Wilson said during Thursday's annual Big Ten football media gathering. “To me, as good as he's been, there's a lot more in him. He has to be stronger and be more mature. He made big plays, but he can be so much more consistent.”
Belcher, the former North Side standout and returning Big Ten receiving leader, was consistent enough to be the only Hoosier named to the Big Ten's Preseason Players to Watch list. He was one of 12 players recognized by a selected panel of conference media.
Belcher totaled 78 catches for 832 yards last season. He has 164 catches for 1,939 yards in his career. He's within range of James Hardy's school career record of 191 catches for 2,740 yards.
“In the past he's relied a lot on his talent,” Wilson said. “I challenged him to be a great practice player and a great worker. Do the little things to prepare to take it to the next level. He's embraced that.
“His stats were strong last year. Whether or not his numbers are the same this year, he has a chance to have a great senior year and be one of the best in the league. I expect him to be.”
Hope gets a kick out of Wiggs
Purdue kicker Carson Wiggs brings out the accolades from coach Danny Hope.
Wiggs' strong leg — he had a 67-yard field goal in April's spring game and has a 59-yarder in an official game — has Hope looking for records.
“I think he's the most exciting field-goal kicker in all of football,” he said. “He nails world record field goals on a regular basis in practice. If you look at other athletes who train, if they train at world-record performance on a regular basis in practice, that's always a good sign. So I think Carson is a special player.”
The 6-foot, 192-pound Wiggs has made 36 of his 51 career field-goal attempts. He has the four longest in school history at 59, 55, 53 and 52 yards. He's also a solid punter with a career average of 35.4 yards. It would be more, but he's usually used to try to pin the opposing teams inside the 20 yard line. Cody Webster is Purdue's regular punter.
“Carson has been one of our top leaders the last three years,” Hope said. “He's an outstanding football player who is trapped with a kicker's leg. If he was a little bit bigger, if he wasn't such a good kicker, we'd probably move him to linebacker. He's a tough guy, a heck of a football player.”
Wilson: Recruiting is going well
IU continues to generate a lot of recruiting buzz with the oral commitment of quarterback Gunner Kiel. The Columbus standout is rated as the nation's No. 1 pro-style quarterback prospect. Wilson couldn't talk about Kiel, or any recruit, until he signs a national letter of intent. That won't happen until February. But Wilson could talk about his recruiting in general and his in-state emphasis in particular.
Eight of Wilson's 15 commitments in the Class of 2012 are from the state of Indiana.
“We've got seven (coaches) recruiting in the state,” he said. “We've been well received in the state. The high school coaches have welcomed us. Our staff has worked hard at it. A lot of in-state kids have been through to see us.
“It's critical that we respect and honor the state and make it hard for the best not to want to come to Indiana. It's a great school in a great town. It's hard to beat everything a state school can give you — media coverage, fans and family. That's the sell. The next sell is socially, the academic environment, the facilities, the university commitment. You guys haven't seen the half-million bucks we've put into upgrading our (Memorial Stadium) downstairs with graphics and pictures since May.
“We're not climbing Mount Everest. Everything is in place for this program to take off. We're not far away.”
Smith should get an opportunity
Former Harding standout Rod Smith will have a chance to make an early tailback impression at Ohio State. Starter Dan Herron is among the players suspended for the first five games as part of the tattoos-for-memorabilia scandal that wound up costing former head coach Jim Tressell his job. Smith, a redshirt freshman, is expected to be part of a tailback rotation that will include veterans Jordan Hall (169 yards, two touchdowns last season), Jaamal Berry (267 yards, one TD) and Carlos Hyde (145 yards). Smith was Ohio State's second-best prospect coming out of high school, when he set the SAC career record with 6625 rushing yards and 66 touchdowns.
The 6-3, 220-pound Smith looked solid while rushing for 36 yards during April's spring game.
Ohio State interim coach Luke Fickell was asked about Smith's potential on Thursday.
“He's a guy with great size and great running abilities,” Fickell said. “The thing about the running back position, they will have to take a lot of the load off some of the things we do because we'll have a young quarterback.
“We have a stable of guys that can be very successful at the running back position. It will be who can develop and come along and do all the things we ask him to do — run, block and catch. We have a few young guys who are going to get a lot of reps at it.”
Paterno is pumped up
Penn State coach Joe Paterno has overcome a series of health issues in recent years, including knee surgery when he was hit on the sidelines during a game against Wisconsin, but insisted he is fine despite his 80-plus years.
“I feel a lot better than I did a year ago. The kid from Wisconsin running into me when I broke my knee. Then I threw my hip out showing off, trying to show the kids how to kick a football. I couldn't kick when I was healthy. I sure as hell couldn't kick with a broken knee.
“But I'm back to doing a lot of things I used to do, walking a lot more. I've been watching what I eat. I enjoyed this spring. I have a lot more enthusiasm.
“There's an old saying that I had forgotten. They asked (former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy) one time about his age. He said, ‘I don't think age is a factor. I'm old enough to know my limitations and I'm young enough to know how to handle them.”