BLOOMINGTON — How serious is Kevin Wilson about changing the mindset surrounding Indiana's perennially struggling football program?
Tight end Ted Bolser has a tale to tell.
During a recent practice, Wilson, the Hoosiers' new head coach, asked Bolser if he was the best tight end in the Big Ten. This wasn't a test of Bolser's humility. Wilson wants his players to believe they are good and can beat the best if they work hard, stay focused and don't quit. He wants confidence and swagger and, perhaps, just a touch of arrogance. The key, of course, is that performance backs it up.
So Wilson popped the question and Bolser hesitated.
That was a mistake.
“He called me out because I didn't answer fast enough that I was the best,” Bolser said. “He's expecting us to be the best. He's not holding us to any lower standards.”
This is Wilson's method for turning around the Hoosiers. Execution follows belief. If you don't believe, you won't execute, especially at crunch time. IU has been a poster child for blowing fourth-quarter opportunities in recent years.
“He's expecting the world out of us, which is good,” Bolser said. “We need that from him. He'll tell us if we're not playing up to our potential. He's expecting everything.”
Bolser, who missed Monday night's practice at Memorial Stadium with a minor injury, faces a big load of those expectations. Last year as a redshirt freshman he made a pair of freshman All-America teams after catching 27 passes for 407 yards and a school-record five touchdowns for a tight end.
Having veteran quarterback Ben Chappell, last year's Big Ten passing leader, helped. Chappell is gone, Wilson has brought in a new system and a new starter has to emerge. The battle between Dusty Kiel, Edward Wright-Baker, Adam Follett, Teddy Schell and Tre Roberson continues. Check that. It's down to Kiel, Wright-Baker and Roberson. Those three got all the reps during Monday night's practice.
No matter who the quarterback is, Bolser says, the offense will click. It always has under Wilson at stops at Miami of Ohio, Northwestern and Oklahoma.
“The sky is the limit with the offense,” Bolser said. “Whether it's Dusty, Ed, Adam, Tre or Teddy, we have a lot of potential. Coach Wilson has plenty of credentials. He knows what he's doing. He's an offensive genius.”
Look for tight ends — fifth-year senior Max Dedmond also is part of the mix — to be a big part of the passing attack.
“With Coach Wilson's offense there's always a tight end in the game,” Bolser said, “so we'll get a lot more plays, and more potential balls thrown our way.”
IU is gearing for its season opener against Ball State on Sept. 3 at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium.
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Hoosier cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby is high on a pair of Bishop Luers graduates – redshirt sophomore Lawrence Barnett and true freshman Kenny Mullen.
Barnett is positioned to be a starter. Mullen has a chance at significant playing time. Shelby credits the quality of Fort Wayne high school coaching and teams.
“Fort Wayne produces a lot of good players,” Shelby says. “They know how to work. They come from programs where coaching was important, expectations were high and you have to find a way to get it done. It makes my job a lot easier getting those guys to get that college mindset.”
Mullen intercepted Kiel during Monday night's practice.
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Tailback Darius Willis is still out after last season's knee surgery. Wilson said Monday night he hasn't seen Willis run yet and doesn't know when he will return.
Injuries continue to hamper the player who was once seen as the future of the Hoosiers' rushing attack, combining impressive speed, size and strength. Willis missed all of spring practice.
As far as who the starting tailback will be, it's down to junior college transfer Stephen Houston, redshirt freshman Matt Perez, sophomore Nick Turner and true freshman D'Angelo Roberts.