IU spring practice football long way from finished fall product


As college basketball appeared on more television stations than NCIS marathon re-runs, as Caitlin Clark received far more attention than the First Lady, and as Connecticut had more eyes turned its way since the state was one of the original 13 colonies, in a quiet corner of the Indiana University campus a bunch of newbies familiarized themselves with one book.

Not an Algebra text, a Spanish-language dictionary, or a volume of Shakespeare’s greatest hits, but Curt Cignetti’s playbook that he hopes becomes a best-seller.

Indiana spring football is being contested almost under the radar compared to the Hoosier women’s basketball team’s run to the Sweet Sixteen and attention paid to the solar eclipse.

Now that Cignetti has replaced Tom Allen as boss of the football team, the proper eyewear, even more so than eclipse glasses to protect eyesight are rose-colored glasses to distort football observations into optimistic outlooks only.

There were highlight moments during Allen’s seven-season tenure, but before resurfacing as the defensive coordinator at Penn State, he finished 33-49 in Bloomington.

Now the generally fast-talking, upbeat Cignetti, most recently head man at James Madison, where he went 11-1 last fall, has the keys to the office,

Memorably, since he did not wish to wait until the eclipse, he introduced himself to the largest IU gathering he could find a few months ago – a Hoosier men’s basketball game at Assembly Hall. There he brashly predicted good things ahead for a Hoosier football program which has more or less been in a slump for a century, and as an aside mentioned of rival Purdue that the Boilermakers “suck.”

Not so much on the field when playing Indiana lately and maintaining a death grip on the Old Oaken Bucket trophy, but the sentiment was appreciated.

Since then, working so many hours a day that he said his wife feared for his health for lack of sleep at one point, Cignetti demonstrated what can be accomplished in terms of re-tooling a roster in the blink of an eye under the current college sports transfer portal rules, combined with recruiting aggressiveness.

The Hoosiers finished the 2023 season 3-9 Thanksgiving weekend, Allen was fired and Cignetti hired, within days.

With their coach departing, a new coach starting, and disappointing results on the resume, it figured that Indiana players not out of eligibility would flee in flocks.

Cignetti and the crowd he brought with him from Virginia had to hurriedly explain to potential replacements not which president Madison was, but what a Hoosier is.

Any football player who could block and chew gum, maybe run the 40 as fast as the Flash, or could tote a pigskin more elusively than the razorback did when still alive, was worth a chat.

IU signed 38 new football-playing Hoosiers in what was termed the 2024 recruiting cycle. Hopefully, they are all wearing name tags. There are 16 freshmen in the group and 22 transfers from other schools.

That means there will be a lot of new faces wearing Indiana uniforms when the season kicks off with a home game (exceptionally early) against Florida International Aug. 31.

While under any definition of the phrase, the Hoosiers are starting over under a new administration, there are still familiar names on the roster, though it is completely unknown at this point what roles they will fill.

Sophomore quarterback Tayven Jackson, who shared in front-line duties part of last season, is back. So are receivers Donaven McCulley, E.J. Williams Jr., Omar Cooper Jr. and Andison Coby, as well as running back Trent Howland. And even some guys who play other positions, such as defensive backs Nic Toomer and Josh Sanguinetti.

So, fans will recognize some names on the roster from the start. The faster they get to know others probably means good news. Although there is a spring game scheduled for April 15, good luck gathering rock-solid information from that single game-situation showing.

After a recent early-April practice Cignetti sounded like a teacher introducing a difficult-to-grasp subject as he analyzed if the students are getting it.

“It is starting to look more like the practices we are accustomed to,” he said. “You can hear the pads cracking better. Still a lot of mistakes, which is expected when putting in a new offense, defense, and every day you are installing new stuff.”

All of that is to be expected in such a major transition from the head coach down to the back-up to the back-up guard who may redshirt as a freshman.

When someone asked Cignetti about a depth chart he reacted as if he was queried about what is going to be on the final exam. Talk to him in mid-August about that, he said.

For now, just keep wearing the right-colored glasses.

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