Lagow just scratching surface at IU

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in Sunday’s print edition of The Herald-Times and on HeraldTimesOnline.com.

It must have missed the mark by 15 yards.

Richard Lagow’s first pass in an Indiana uniform came on a play-action throw midway through the first quarter on Sept. 1 at Florida International. He faked to running back Devonte Williams and looked deep down the far sideline for Ricky Jones, who would’ve needed wings to catch it.

In an office 1,400 miles away, deep in the heart of Texas, Lagow’s junior college coach Dionte Dean silently diagnosed the problem.

“He’s nervous,” Dean thought, watching the ESPNU broadcast on a television set at Cisco College.

Not far away, settled in at his home in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Kevin Murray thought the same. Murray, who runs the Air 14 Quarterback Academy, has known Lagow since the IU junior was in middle school.

Both Dean and Murray played pivotal roles in getting Lagow to where he is today, helping him navigate the long road from his hometown of Plano, Texas, to three previous college campuses and, ultimately, to Indiana.

Through their understanding of Lagow’s past, present and where he can go under Indiana coach Kevin Wilson’s direction, they agree on something else, too.

Lagow is only tapping his potential.

“I think Coach Wilson is going to get every ounce of Lagow out of Lagow,” Murray said. “I think he’s going to get everything out of that kid, and more.”

Bloomington is the fourth college town where Lagow has planted roots. It’s also the place he hopes to make his own.

Emerging as a three-star prospect from a run-first offense at Plano High School in 2013, Lagow’s chance to showcase his arm was initially deferred.

He originally signed with Connecticut, but it wasn’t a good fit. Lagow then accepted a walk-on opportunity at Oklahoma State and spent his first academic year in Stillwater.

Buried on the Cowboys’ depth chart, Lagow moved to the JUCO ranks in 2014 and chose to play at Cisco. There, he made a connection with Dean and led an offense that saw him throw for 4,189 yards and 38 touchdowns against 17 interceptions in his two years at that level.

Lagow also got to feel game action for the first time since high school, and he honed his passing profile behind the scenes.

Dean says he can seldom recall accuracy being an issue for Lagow at Cisco. In truth, Dean recalls several days on the field watching Lagow stand at the 40-yard line and hit the same spot on the goal post in succession.

“He would take a three-step drop and let it ride,” Dean said.

That arm strength, and the fact that Lagow completed 66 percent of his passes at Cisco last fall, drew Wilson’s attention.

Lagow and Dean combed through tape of Indiana’s offense, looking to gauge how the Texan would fit at IU. They saw similarities to Nate Sudfeld, who is the same size at 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, and who carries a similar passing profile.

“Man, this offense is for you,” Dean told Lagow last fall. “You could benefit from this a lot.”

They envisioned a future under Wilson where Lagow could get expert tutelage from a man who has worked hands-on with Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and who has engineered some of the most prolific offenses in Football Bowl Subdivision history.

“He really hasn’t been coached within the framework of a structured passing system, a structured offense like the way he’s going to be coached now under coach Wilson,” said Murray, who played quarterback at Texas A&M and is a family friend of Lagow’s father, Kyle, who played tight end at Southern Methodist.

“… He’s already challenging Richard, which I love. He’s been tough on Rich, which I love. He’s been demanding of Rich, which I love. My experiences with coaches tell me that when they push kids like he’s pushing Rich, that tells me that he likes what he sees.”

Wilson holds an incredibly high standard for his quarterbacks. Previously, Sudfeld has said that during his time at Indiana, Wilson pushed him hardest in practice during the days that followed some of his best games.

That’s the degree of difficulty Lagow surely faces now.

He has given Indiana exactly what it has asked of him through the first two games, completing 65 percent of his 54 total passes without throwing a single interception. He’s also thrown for four scores and rushed for another.

“For sure, he has met our expectations,” Wilson said. “… We have bogged down some offensively, but that is more attributed to the unit and execution and play calling more than his play. He has had very few decisions that have been questioned (like), ‘Why are you going there or forcing the ball?’ He has been very calm. I don’t know if he has exceeded expectations, but he has played really, really good out of the gate.”

There are additional tests, and further lessons to come.

The focus now is on fixing the wonky footwork that has followed Lagow from his teenage years.

There are issues with his balance, and in the past, he may have gotten away with his missteps simply because he was able to get the ball off and overpower JUCO defenses.

“Right now, that’s his Achilles heel,” Murray said. “He’s gotta be more aggressive with his lower half. He’s gotta be more aggressive with his feet. But I think he understands that now.”

If he doesn’t, Wilson will hammer that home in ways only Wilson can. That’s the kind of teaching Lagow signed up for.

It’s the kind of instruction he wanted.

And, as a whole, it’s the situation he has been waiting for — a chance to lead a Big Ten offense to back-to-back bowl trips.

“I was accepted immediately,” Lagow said. “It took some time to gain the trust and respect of everybody on the team, which is necessary. But as far as the guys, the coaches and everybody, (they accepted me) right away.”

Although this is a bye week for the team, Indiana held an open practice on the turf field inside Memorial Stadium on Saturday morning. After the rain clouds parted, the Hoosiers emerged from the locker room and used half the field to drill.

On one of his first throws, Lagow fired a bullet down the seam and hit slot receiver Mitchell Paige in stride, then turned to give offensive coordinator Kevin Johns a high-five.

“He hasn’t even scratched the surface yet,” Murray said.