Hendershot emerging as weapon for IU

Peyton Hendershot thought he dropped it.

Given the degree of difficulty, he probably should have.

Instead, the redshirt freshman tight end turned his second-half bobble at Rutgers into a behind-the-back grab — and one of the top catches from the first half of the college football season.

The ball nearly left Hendershot’s grasp after he tried to corral it against his waist midway through the third quarter of that Sept. 29 win in New Jersey. In a last-ditch effort to trap it against his body, Hendershot juggled the ball behind his back with his right hand, then steadied it with his left.

All things considered, it looked like a rather seamless transition for Hendershot, who then brought the ball back around his waist in his right hand and kept running for a 22-yard gain.

“I didn’t like it too much,” IU offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said with a smile. “But it was great concentration and I don’t know how he did it.”

A SportsCenter highlight at Rutgers turned into another big moment last week at Ohio State, where Hendershot caught a 32-yard touchdown pass during IU’s second-quarter rally against the Buckeyes.

For an IU team that entered the regular season with questions at tight end, Hendershot is earning his spot atop the depth chart and surfacing as a weapon inside the offense.

“He’s been playing exceptional,” DeBord said. “He’s kind of matured as a college football player, both mentally and physically, and I’ve been very happy with the way he’s playing. He goes up against guys who are a lot bigger than him, but I’ve always thought technique can help off-set that, and he’s really been buying into his technique and what he’s been doing that way. I’m proud of what he’s doing.”

With Ian Thomas in the NFL and senior Ryan Watercutter dealing with a long-term injury rehabilitation, IU needed help at tight end during the first half of the season. Austin Dorris and Matt Bjorson have also provided encouraging moments, while Hendershot has positioned himself as a player to watch.

Across the past two weeks, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Hendershot has produced 79 yards on three catches with the one score. He also delivered a key block on Stevie Scott’s 45-yard run in the first quarter at Ohio State, opening the hole that sprung Scott for the longest run of his young career.

“I think it’s just me trusting in (DeBord’s recommended) technique,” Hendershot said. “He’s been around the game a long time. I finally just listened to everything he said, because he knows what he’s talking about.

“I’m a young teenager. I tend to think I’m always right. But everything he says – he knows why it’s better, why it’s the best technique to do it.”

Learning the finer points to the tight end position is a crucial step in Hendershot’s development. A two-sport standout at Tri-West, Hendershot also starred as a basketball player and led the Bruins to a 2016 semi-state appearance.

At Tri-West, he leaned on his superior athleticism. At IU, Hendershot is learning how he needs to study details.

“In high school, I was so athletic, everything just came easy to me,” Hendershot said. “Here, everybody’s athletic. Everybody was ‘The Guy.’ So you’ve got to work hard every day. You can’t take any day off. If you have a bad day, the other guy is going to have a great day and eliminate you (from playing-time consideration).”

From what it looks like, Hendershot is still making things look easy — like that highlight-reel catch at Rutgers.

“It just happened spur-of-the-moment,” Hendershot said. “I thought I’d dropped it, at first. It took so long to get there — my first real catch of the season — and I took my eyes of it, but somehow still came up with it, thank God.”

For the season, Hendershot has nine catches for 112 yards and two scores.

During fall camp, Hendershot picked up the nickname “24/7” because, as receiver Nick Westbrook put it, he was always open.

When informed of the moniker, DeBord laughed. The offensive coordinator wasn’t sure he agreed.

But DeBord did note that Hendershot is working hard to find ways to create separation. He may not be open all the time, but he’s showing he’s equipped for an increased role inside Indiana’s offense.

“He’s really worked at (getting open), too,” DeBord said. “Sometimes, against man coverage, you may have a safety on you – sometimes defenses look at that as a mismatch for them, but we look at it as it should be a mismatch for us, if we’ve got the right sort of tight ends.

“He’s been doing a great job of working his technique, had really improved his route-running technique and stuff like that, so, again, I’m proud of the way he’s developing right now.”

And not only is he developing, Hendershot is delivering, too.

“Playing against Ohio State, those bigger-name programs, you get a big block or catch a big pass and say, ‘I’m made for this type of environment,’” Hendershot said. “It builds the confidence that I can do it against anybody.”