BLOOMINGTON -- Welcome to Ted Bolser's better football through lacrosse.
Bolser is Indiana's junior tight end whose pass-catching prowess makes him a threat every time a pass is called. His one-handed 38-yard reception against Wisconsin set up his 6-yard touchdown catch that, briefly, gave the Hoosiers hope last Saturday.
Entering Saturday's game at Penn State, Bolser ranks fourth on the team with a career-high 35 catches for 377 yards and two touchdowns. At 6-6 and 248 pounds, he's fast enough and athletic enough to create mismatches for any linebacker assigned to cover him.
Credit goes, in part, to Bolser's lacrosse background. He started playing it in first grade, the same time he started football, and combined the two, along with basketball, until he reached college.
It improved his football then, and now, even though he hasn't played competitive lacrosse in four years or so.
“It helps with my footwork in the open field,” he says. “It helps with one-on-one a lot.”
Lacrosse is a sport originated with Native Americans, who sometimes played games that lasted as long as two days and involved as many as 1,000 warriors.
Now it's one of America's fastest growing sports, requiring fitness, speed, agility and, yes, a certain physical presence.
Bolser played attacking middie, which, as lacrosse experts know, is an offensive and defensive position where you get to run up and down the field, looking to score and stop the other team from scoring.
“You run and have to see things,” he says. “It keeps your eyes on difference places.”
Seeing the field is crucial in football as well as lacrosse. It's that attribute, and his overall versatility, that has helped Bolser have his most productive college season.
“He has great ball skills and hand-eye coordination,” offensive coordinator Seth Littrell says. “He's basically 250 pounds and is still athletic and can still run around.”
Bolser was a receiver disguised as a tight end in high school. In his last two seasons at Cincinnati's Indian Hill High School he caught 131 passes for 1,883 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Then, as a Hoosier freshman, he caught 27 passes for 407 yards and five touchdowns. The touchdowns were the most ever caught in a season by an IU tight end. He received All-America acclaim.
But then coach Bill Lynch was fired, Kevin Wilson replaced him and Bolser's run-blocking duties increased, especially when true freshman Tre Roberson became the starting quarterback and the Hoosiers went to more of a run-option attack.
The adjustment was tough on all parties involved.
This year Bolser has become more of a leader, although he says it remains a work in progress.
“I've stepped up a little bit there, but I need to do a lot better.”
Blocking remains a top priority. The running attack has sputtered in recent weeks, and that, Littrell says, is as much a reflection on the blocking as it is the running.
“He's part of the run game that hasn't been doing very well,” Littrell says. “That's on me. Up front we need to do a better job along with the running backs.”
Bolser's blocking assignments center on defensive ends, and the mismatch is not so much in his favor, although coaches cut him little slack.
“He has to do everything pretty well,” Littrell says. “We expect him to be great in the run game.”
That do-it-all approach comes with the position. It's why it's so difficult to find a high school tight end well versed in blocking and receiving.
“You try to find an all-around tight end,” Littrell says, “but in high school those guys don't block as much, so there's a lot more technique and teaching we have to do.
“The biggest thing I look for is a guy who will compete and who has toughness, who has the desire to come in here and win. We'll fix the other things.”
What does that mean for Bolser?
“He's still grinding,” Littrell says. “He understands the things he needs to work on with the run game, especially technique. He'll always line up against D-ends who are bigger than him, sometimes he'll line up against D-ends who are stronger than him. But none of that matters. It's about technique, will, heart and desire. I feel like he has. We have to work those things. That's every guy up front.”
Bolser grinds with improved fitness -- his percentage of body fat dropped from 20 to 13 this past season -- that comes from a combination of strength coach Mark Hill's strength program and director of performance nutrition Amy Freel's diet guidelines.
Still, in the end, it's about performance, his own and that of the Hoosiers. They did not have a great Monday practice, Bolser says, and that has to change ASAP.
“We need to step up. We didn't play as well as we should have (against Wisconsin) and we didn't step up in practice. We have to have a better week.”