CHICAGO — Kevin Wilson runs his football program like a drill sergeant. He’s trying to change everything about the Indiana Hoosiers from their losing ways to the inferiority complex. If that ruffles the egos of a few holdovers, well, that’s just too bad.
Last year more than a dozen scholarship Hoosiers left the program with many players unable tot adapt to Wilson’s abrasive and strict style. The coach wanted to weed out the players who didn’t buy into to his approach, and he did. The result was predictable, a 1-11 record and an 0-8 mark in the Big Ten.
“The first year was trial by fire,” said senior Indiana center Will Matte, who has started 33 games. “It was tough. It was important because you could see who stuck around and really cared and bought in. It was hard enough where if you didn’t care and you weren’t putting in the time, you weren’t going to put in all that effort into something that you didn’t care about. It was a rough year, but at the end of the day it helped us out and the foundation we’re setting is really solid.
“Wilson came in and demanded a lot, but at the end of the day it’s what we needed. The guys that competed and accepted it and went on with it and were able to get better as a player. He challenged us, and it’s definitely a good thing.”
Wilson said he was “personally embarrassed” with the results last year, which included six league losses by more than 14 points. He said the offseason showed the team can and will improve this year.
Wilson touted the team’s work ethic and said they players have engaged in a positive approach. He cited an improvement in communication and has built a leadership group of 12 players. He believes his team will make strides this season.
“We’re excited where we’re going, and I think we’ve laid a solid foundation,” Wilson said. “And I think we’re going to be pretty competitive this year. I’ve never said we’re going to win X games and beat X team. We’re going to play some Big Ten football at a significantly better level this year. That’s the expectations, and I believe we’re going to see that.”
Wilson is adamant the competition is wide open at quarterback. Tre Roberson became the first true freshman to start as an Indiana quarterback, and he opened five games for the Hoosiers. He completed 57 percent of his passes but threw just three touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 426 yards and two scores.
Roberson’s competition comes from two newcomers. Cameron Coffman, brother of former Missouri tight end Chase and Kansas State quarterback Carson, comes to Indiana as a junior-college sophomore. He led junior-college team Arizona Western to the national title game last season.True freshman Nate Sudfeld, who was rated the No. 14 quarterback nationally by ESPN, also will have an opportunity to win the job, Wilson said.
“The conversation to Tre Roberson and the conversation to every quarterback (is) we’re not going to be a good team in the Big Ten with average quarterback play,” Wilson said. “That is a fact. We better be one of the better quarterbacks in the league, and we better play at a high end if we expect to win and start playing quality Big Ten football.
“So Tre’s been challenged. We’re excited about Cam. We’ll see what Nate Sudfeld does as well.”
It’s not easy to change the culture of a perennial loser. Indiana hasn’t earned a winning Big Ten record since 1993 and played in just one bowl game in the last 20 seasons. Although last year was tough even by Indiana standards — it was the school’s first winless Big Ten campaign since 1984 — Wilson hopes one step backward in 2011 translates into one giant leap forward this year.
“Of course we know (we’re) coming off a very disappointing record year, but I think we’ve made some really great strides even last season off the field establishing our process, mindset, whatnot,” Wilson said.
“Everyone feels more comfortable this year,” Matte said. “You don’t necessarily go through the motions, but you just know where the bar has been set and where you’ve got to work and how you’ve got to work. I think guys have a much better concept of that this year.”
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