Indiana coach Kevin Wilson wouldn’t confirm a report from the Indiana Daily Student that junior tailback Darius Willis is definitively out for the season, but he expressed little hope of a return for the Franklin Central graduate and hinted that his injuries could be career-threatening.
Willis was the starting tailback in both 2009 and 2010 for the Hoosiers and compiled 885 yards and 10 touchdowns in those two seasons, but he’s continually battled injury. That includes a torn patella tendon in his knee that ended his season after four games last year.
Willis hasn’t practiced much since sitting out all of spring and making it in for only a handful of practices in the preseason. Wilson, who is rarely specific in describing injuries, said that Willis reaggravated the knee injury, which puts not only his season but his career in doubt.
“It could be the end of his career,” Wilson said. “It’s a recurring deal. He’s far enough along. That’s just for the doctors and his family to decide.”
He didn’t rule out a return completely, but he also floated the possibility of Willis taking a medical hardship waiver. That would mean he would remain on scholarship, but would no longer play because of the injury and would not count against the scholarship limit of 85. Former left guard Aaron Price, a South graduate whose career ended because of a back injury is in a similar circumstance.
“I don’t know if he’s out for the season,” Wilson said. “… If you can’t play with it, you look to do those medical deals like you do with guys, but that’s not our call. That’s a league deal where you document if the injury is significant enough where he can’t play. Then he stays on scholarship and frees it up. He hasn’t practiced but a couple, three times all year. He just kind of retweaked the tendon or whatever injury before. It just didn’t heal right, I guess.”
The Hoosiers’ second-most experienced tailback coming into the season has moved not only out of the rotation but away from the position. Redshirt sophomore Nick Turner, who handled almost all of the work at tailback this spring, was passed on the depth chart by redshirt freshman Matt Perez, junior college transfer Stephen Houston and true freshman D’Angelo Roberts. Wilson said he wants to try to use Turner’s considerable speed elsewhere, so he’s moved him to safety for the time being.
“We’re trying to find him a spot on the field,” Wilson said. “With some seniors at safety, maybe it’s a year-away move, but why do you wait? If you’re not playing, let’s escalate it. … I don’t know if he can play over there. He’s fast, but there’s a lot of fast guys that can’t play football. He wasn’t doing well at running back. The young guys went past him. We’re just trying to find a spot, get him on the field. He’s a good kid, trying. He did a nice job in the spring, but the young guys have just played better and went by him.”
Turner has seen plays during games in special teams, and Wilson said he’s a long way from understanding the defense because he’s just begun learning it. Wilson said he was moved to safety instead of cornerback because he has better straight-ahead speed than lateral quickness. Wilson said he could move back to running back immediately in case of injury.
Turner, a 6-foot-187-pounder, rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries last season, typically working as a change-of-pace scatback. He also had seven receptions for 54 yards.