Wilson relying more on player leadership

CHICAGO — Perhaps the biggest difference between the state of the Indiana football program in 2012 and its status in 2011, second-year coach Kevin Wilson said, is that the demands are now coming from different areas than just the coaching staff.

It took a grueling 1-11 year to establish standards of performance as well as daily routines and to mold the infrastructure to service those. It also took a year for the players who believed in those standards and routines to separate themselves from those who felt they might be better off elsewhere.

And after all of that, Wilson said, his players appear to have at least enough of a sense of direction to be able to guide each other to some degree and to develop player leadership.

“The one thing that’s changed, you will hear now some people that aren’t coaches say ‘This is how we do it,’” Wilson said Friday at Big Ten Media Days. “’This is how we practice. This is how we act. This is how we are in the locker room. This is how we are in the Hoosier Room eating.’ That’s different.”

Because a year ago at this time, they admittedly weren’t sure about what they were doing. Even after spring practice 2011, the fear of the unknown was almost absolute. There was turnover. There was turmoil. Established starters and members of the two-deep were losing their jobs to freshmen and some of those seemingly established players left the program. In all, more than a dozen scholarship players left the program and there were more than 30 departures all told from the first day of Wilson’s tenure in December, 2010 through the end of the last school year.

Even among those who stayed and succeeded, there was a general sense of daily uncertainty if only because they were forced to abandon the routines they experienced under former coach Bill Lynch.

But after their second spring and heading into their second August in the Wilson regime, the veterans have developed a sense of understanding they can pass along.

“It’s huge,” senior defensive tackle Adam Replogle said. “Coming in, we didn’t really know the expectations, you know? And if the expectations changed throughout the year. Coach Wilson having a year under his belt and us having a year under our belt, we know the expectations. We can teach the younger guys those expectations, where last year, we were all kind of in the dark about it. … Seniors and juniors were making freshman mistakes just because everyone was learning.”

And after a year, each player has had the opportunity to decide whether or not Wilson’s program is one they actually want to be a part of. When Lynch was fired and Wilson was hired, some players stayed simply out of a sense of obligation to the program.

At this point, those who remain are there entirely voluntarily.

“The guys that are in the locker room now,” Matte said. “They’re good guys and they’re working hard. Everyone’s on the same page. That’s probably the biggest difference is there aren’t really too many guys straying away from the team.”

With that understanding, Wilson now feels comfortable putting more in the hands of his team. During the spring, he divided the squad up into 12 platoons, and selected 12 leaders and 12 lieutenants to run those squads. Those intentionally diverse platoons had nothing to do with position units — Replogle, for instance, was the captain of a platoon that also included safety Ryan Thompson and wide receiver Nick Stoner — and the teams were part of a semester-long competition in which points were granted for on and off-the-field performance.

Grades and class attendance mattered. Weight room workouts, team meals and tutoring sessions mattered, and teammates were held accountable for each other’s actions.

“I think guys feel they need to be more accountable,” Replogle said. “If you don’t go to class, that whole platoon gets up and we run. … They know that they’re not only hurting themselves but they’re hurting the whole team. I think that helps the whole team.”

Wilson said the squad’s player leadership is still a long way from where he wants it to be. They get some of the basics, he said, and they’re actually better at keeping each other in line away from Memorial Stadium than they are inside of it.

Now, he said, that has to come more into balance.

“We did a nice job of getting guys to police themselves in the external world of football but not the internal,” Wilson said. “Internal meaning when I’m in a workout and a guy’s not working has hard as he can, I need you to lead me now. We’ve done pretty good with leaders encouraging guys and making sure guys are getting to class and guys are on time, and my locker’s clean and I’m at that tutor when I’m supposed to be. I’m doing my job and I’m physically ‘punching the clock’ and I’m where I’m supposed to be. But as we went through spring, it was kind of evident that coaches were still trying to do more on-the-field leadership where the players need to get to that point.”But they’re still better at holding each other to those standards now that they know what those standards are.

AUDIO: Kevin WIlson Part 1

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