Three years ago, Ben Ishola wasn’t thinking about how quickly he would become a starting defensive end for the Hoosiers. All he was thinking about was how quickly he could leave.
The 6-3, 255-pound native of Berlin, Germany, arrived as a member of Gerry DiNardo’s first IU recruiting class. While he had all of the physical gifts to suggest that he would quickly work his way onto the field, his football background in Germany didn’t prepare him well for what he’d be treated to during his first fall football camp.
Ishola was overwhelmed with schemes and stunts and reads that were foreign to him. In addition, he struggled with the English language early on as well as the fact that all of his friends were back home in Germany, and the thought crossed his mind that perhaps his stay in Bloomington would be a brief one.
“That first camp, I told myself, ‘what the hell are you doing here?’” said Ishola. “Just take the next plane and get out of here.”
Obviously Ishola decided to stick it out, and he slowly became more comfortable with the game and his surroundings. He made friends on the team and began to make strides on the field. He contributed at defensive end in a limited capacity, being used primarily as a pass rushing specialist in 3rd-and-long situations.
Now, he’s taken the next step. On Friday, Ishola is expected to make his first collegiate start in his final season with the Hoosiers.
“Obviously it was a good decision that I made to stay,” said Ishola. “But those first six months, that first camp, they were tough. I came straight out of Germany and I arrived at the start of camp and I wasn’t used to the physical play.”
He’s since adapted and has been a pleasant surprise for defensive line coach Brian George.
“Ben didn’t play high school football, so he hasn’t played as much football as some of the other guys,” said Georege. “He gained some experience last year and during the off-season he gained some strength. He’s really worked to hone skills, and did a great job in the spring and this camp. He’s been doing things exactly how we want him to do things – we expect big things from his this season.”
Ishola is expecting the same out of himself. He’s found George’s system to be a better fit for him than what he worked in the last couple of years, as it is one that allows him to use his athleticism to make plays on the football field.
“What he’s helped me do is he knows how to use the speed that I have,” said Ishola. “The schemes aren’t as complicated so I can take advantage of my speed and make plays.”
George and IU head coach Terry Hoeppner are expecting bigger things from the defensive line in 2005. Last year’s starting defensive front of Victor Adeyanju, Martin Lapostolle, Jodie Clemons and Kenny Kendal combined for 22 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks, all numbers that both expect to be on the rise in 2005.
Ishola is a big reason why. Unlike in the past, he will be on the field in both running and passing situations. He’s someone who can get after the quarterback if the opponents throw, but can also chase down a player from behind on a screen. After three years in Bloomington, he’s also ready to handle the physical play of opposing offensive tackles against the run as well.
He’ll team with Kendal and Adeyanju to give George a trio defensive ends who will see plenty of action this fall.
“We push each other every day,” said Ishola. “It’s very competitive, but we’re all friends. We help each other to get better and to get to the next level.”