The word “breakthrough” is everywhere at Memorial Stadium.
It’s printed on the workout shirts worn by the Hoosiers, it’s hashtagged in social media posts sent by members of the program and it’s adorned on screens inside the North End Zone weight room facility.
New head coach Tom Allen wants 2017 to be the year Indiana’s football team breaks through with a winning season. Seven weeks into the new calendar year, that quest is taking shape inside IU’s weight room.
“This is our area to start the whole process,” second-year strength and conditioning coach Keith Caton said. “We’re trying to get bigger, we’re trying to get faster and we’re trying to get stronger. We’re trying to bring a team together.”
That’s a multifaceted task in late February, as the Hoosiers look to new leaders at new positions and introduce a crop of five early enrollees to the program.
While Indiana’s defense returns nearly every key member from last season, save for linebacker Marcus Oliver and defensive tackle Ralph Green III, the Hoosiers’ offensive personnel will look a bit different.
With the graduations of Dan Feeney and Dimitric Camiel, junior guard Wes Martin is now the elder statesmen on an offensive line that is starting over with new position coach Darren Hiller.
“It’s been a smooth transition,” Martin said. “I think the guys that were here before kind of got me ready for it and taught me the ropes, as far as how to lead and how to get the other guys prepared.”
It’s fitting that Martin’s transition to veteran voice begins in the weight room, which has been his domain during his first three years on campus.
Martin has previously set team bench press records with 41 reps at 225 pounds and a max rep of 500 pounds. Now, Martin is aiming to add additional strength — as a leader.
“He’s doing a great job,” Caton said. “First off, he’s always been a good leader by example, so he’s always a guy that works hard, shows up early, stays and gets extra. he’s always one of the first ones to complete drills. He’s always that kind of guy. But now he’s gotta be more vocal. He’s been working on that the last couple weeks, calling guys in, getting guys going in the right direction, putting his arm around them if he needs to, raising his voice if he needs to. But he’s doing a lot better heading in that direction. He’s doing a great job for us.”
Caton says he’s also been impressed with the way IU’s handful of newcomers have acclimated early. That group includes linebackers Thomas Allen and Mike McGinnis, offensive lineman Tyler Knight, defensive tackle Juan Harris and punter Haydon Whitehead.
At 6-foot-3, 370 pounds, Harris is as “strong as anything,” Caton said. The key for Harris, in particular, is getting him into better overall shape with spring practice set to begin on March 4.
Overall, Caton is pleased with how the group — the newcomers, in particular — is adjusting to a new year and new expectations.
“It’s a great time for us (and) for guys to step up, become more vocal leaders and get things going in the right direction,” he said. “It’s a great time for us to come together as a team and initiate and start that breakthrough as coach Allen wants.”