Bloomington, Ind. – Indiana’s wide receiving corps could have a very different look next season.
While Hoosier wide receivers coach Billy Lynch’s doesn’t have a single senior among his current crop of pass catchers, he knows there’s a possibility the professional ranks could snatch two of top three from this season in James Hardy and Andrew Means.
The NFL is waiting for Hardy, the Hoosiers’ 6’6”, 225-pound junior who earned All-Big Ten honors after catching 74 passes for 1,075 yards and a school-record 16 touchdowns this season. Earlier this month, Hardy submitted the necessary paper work to the NFL’s College Advisory Committee to get a better gauge of where he’d be selected in the upcoming NFL Draft.
While Hardy hasn’t publicly announced that he will skip his senior season, it’s a fairly safe assumption. The Hoosiers are bringing in a handful of wide receivers in this year’s class, many of whom have mentioned the possibility of playing time thanks to Hardy’s anticipated departure.
But Lynch said nothing is certain, and it’s a subject that will be visited following the team’s trip to Tempe.
“I think James has a bright future ahead of him, and his best years are ahead of him whether that’s at Indiana University for another year or at the next level,” Lynch said. “As coaches, we’ll sit down and see what he’s thinking and let him make the decision that’s best for him and his family.
“We’ll certainly give him advice as to what we think he needs to work on and where he is, but the decision, that needs to be solely up to him and his family.”
With Andrew Means, there’s much more uncertainty about his football future. The sophomore ranked third on the team with 43 receptions this past season, but there’s talk he could wind up being drafted in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft next summer. Means led Coach Tracy Smith’s IU baseball team last season in hitting (.369), runs (32) and stolen bases (27) and is talented outfield prospect.
Lynch is hoping Means gives his football career a chance to blossom before making a decision on which sport to pursue.
“People forget he’s only a sophomore in football,” Lynch said. “\He has so much ahead of him on the football field. He really hasn’t even scratched the surface yet, particularly having James (Hardy) here and James getting the touches.”
Lynch would love to have Means back and he’d certainly be ecstatic to have both in the mix next fall. But he and the IU staff are also preparing for a future without one or both. The Hoosiers have four wideouts committed for the ’08 class (Charles Love III, Tyler Adetona, Tandon Doss and Marquelo Suel) and some talented players on the sidelines such as Matt Ernest and Terrance Turner who should figure into the team’s pass plans next season.
The freshmen will be arriving as unproven college commodities, but Lynch said he’s delivered a message to each throughout the recruiting process to get them prepared for the opportunity.
“I tell everyone of them that they should plan on starting as a true freshman, and they’ll have the opportunity to do that,” Lynch said. “I do feel good about our team and what we have coming back. I think with the type of kids we’re bringing in, they’ll have a chance to compete to play right away as well.”
Lynch is excited about the newcomers, but he also welcomes the fact that he has veterans on the roster who can play and help groom the newcomers as well. Sophomore Ray Fisher will be back after catching 49 passes for 462 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season, while James Bailey, Brandon Walker-Roby and Terrance Turner have also been in the program for a couple of seasons and know what to expect.
That’s a very different situation than the one Lynch inherited when he first arrived in 2005 as a member of Terry Hoeppner’s staff. Lynch had a talented group of wideouts, but one that was young, untested, and probably a little too immature to be playing as much as they had to so early in their careers.
“We were in a position in 2005 that I was playing really good athletes, but guys that were no where near ready to play football,” Lynch said.
Now, Lynch has some very good young receivers that he can blend in with the veterans to form a talented crop of receivers in 2008 – whether Hardy and Means are back or not.
“I think the needs that some of these young guys can fill is depth, and that’s across the board,” Lynch said. “I feel good about the players we have come back, the numbers we have coming back, and the experience we have coming back. But I feel really good about the young kids, too.”