After losing their two top wide receivers from last season, the Indiana football team is looking for new guys to step up.
Nick Stoner, a 6-foot-1 senior from Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., is one of the players who the coaching staff is expecting to fill in the shoes of departing wide outs Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes.
Stoner isn’t the type of receiver that Hoosier fans have been used to watching over the past few seasons. Latimer and Hughes had to rely on their own craftiness to often make plays. Stoner is a speed guy. He has ran a 4.45 40-yard dash and is an accomplished sprinter both at the high school and college level. As a senior at Center Grove, he won the state championship in both the 100 and 200 meters individually, was part of a state champion relay team and helped lead his high school team to the state championship.
All of which just shows that Stoner has a different skill set than recent Hoosier receivers. Stoner enjoys being different in that capacity.
“I’m kind of my own player,” Stoner said. “I’m not going to be the type of player they were. But I’m just going to go be myself and play how I play ball and show people I can do it too.”
In his first three seasons in an IU uniform, Stoner has put up modest statistics. He caught 13 balls as a sophomore and 12 more last season. Last year he had a couple of long distance plays as he averaged 18.8 yards per catch. In the season opener against Indiana State, he had his one and only career touchdown grab of 44 yards.On that go route, Stoner was able to use his speed to get past the Sycamore secondary. Stoner will have to use that blazing speed in order to beat defenders this season instead of going up to get jump balls.
“I’m more of a guy that likes to get a lot of separation from people,” Stoner said. “I’m not bigger so I have to focus on my routes being more sharp than maybe they had to, so just getting separation is key.”
One part of Stoner’s game that will be exciting to watch is his route running ability, where he uses his shiftiness and speed to run crisp routes.
“He’s creative with his routes,” senior receiver Isaiah Roundtree said. “Stoner can dance, his routes have rhythm to them. And then he has the best go ball on the team because that straight-line speed is unstoppable.”
Stoner had a different offseason than usual this year, though. Instead of running track, he decided to work on his size and strength in the weight room in order to improve his abilities as a wide out.
“I redshirted this past season in track because I wanted to get bigger,” Stoner said. “Track definitely took weight off me, but at the same time it helps with speed, it helps with running, it helps with endurance. So there are definitely pros and cons to running track and playing football.”
“He’s really done a good job of putting on some weight and some muscle this year,” offensive coordinator Kevin Johns said. “For him, we’re still trying to get him to make every big time catch and every big time route on third down and come through for us.”
The theme for this year’s entire receiver unit will be speed rather than size and strength, meaning that the play calling is going to change a little bit.
“It’s a lot faster group,” Roundtree said. “Last year we were more big, bulky, throw it up and they’re going to catch it by any means. This year it’s going to be straight deep balls, quick slants. It’s going to be a lot more speed game this year.”
While this group doesn’t have the same skill sets as last year, Stoner says that doesn’t mean they won’t still be physical. The group of receivers have come up with the acronym “BEASTS” this offseason, which they wouldn’t completely give away but said it includes words like “effort” and “toughness”.
“I think the physical presence is still demanded in blocking and such,” Stoner said. “We set a standard in our wide receiver room of being BEASTS, that’s what we call ourselves. Giving 100 percent, always attacking the guy in front of us. Big or small it’s all about heart.”
One thing that makes this receiver corps exciting is the amount of competition that has been on display since the spring and leading into fall camp. Stoner used the example of the No. 2 player behind him, freshman Simmie Cobbs.
“He’s definitely been pushing me,” Stoner said. “When he makes a play I’m like, ‘alright well I’m going to go make one too.’ Which is good, I need it and I know he needs it too.”
Coach Johns was excited about the deep rotation at the receiver position as well, but something he considered important for the younger guys is the ability to play special teams.
“I go into every meeting talking about special teams value,” coach Johns said. “You can be a two or three receiver for me, but you’re not going to travel to each game unless you are on the kickoff cover team or the punt return team.
“So they’re really busting their butt on special teams. They’re doing a great job competing for me, but every single day they have to bring it, and if they don’t, then it’s going to be the next guy’s turn.”
Stoner was limited in practice on Thursday, claiming it to be just a normal camp injury that is nothing to worry about.
“I’m a little nicked up,” Stoner said. “It’s camp, your legs get sore and you get a little nick here or there, but mentally I think I’m at a really good place.”