James already meeting expectations at IU

None of it has surprised David Ballou.

Not the way Sampson James has worked, not the way he’s talked, and certainly not the way the freshman running back has approached his first few weeks on Indiana’s campus.

“He’s exactly what I knew we were getting,” Ballou said.

Ballou, IU’s second-year strength and conditioning coach, has expectations for James that are rooted in experience. The two worked closely at Avon High School, where Ballou trained the school’s athletes and where James earned his status as one of the nation’s most coveted recruits.

James shocked the Big Ten when he flipped his college commitment from Ohio State to Indiana in October, but since officially joining the Hoosiers last month as one of a handful of early enrollees, James’ early progress inside IU’s program has been anything but a surprise.

And considering the hype surrounding James, the highest-ranked member of Indiana’s 2019 signing class, that bodes well for the Hoosiers in the months and years to come.

“The thing with Sampson, when he comes in, when he enters the weight room or comes in and talks to me, he has a focused look in his eyes and it never changes since he wants to be great,” Ballou said.

“He has an expectation about he wants this sport to do for him and I share that. Me and him have talked a lot about that. The way he approaches the day-to-day operation of what you have to do is how you operate in this conference. It’s how you operate in how you win.”

With James in the fold, the Hoosiers hope they have one of the pieces to start winning.

A former four-star recruit, the 6-foot-1, 212-pound back committed to Ohio State last March, choosing the Buckeyes over scholarship offers from Michigan, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Florida State, among others.

But his marriage with Ohio State lasted only seven months. Indiana continued to recruit James after his verbal pledge to former Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer last spring, selling him on the established relationships that were already in place in Bloomington.

Ballou’s presence was a factor. So, too, was the fact that James knew IU’s staff and facility well from Avon’s annual attendance at Indiana’s summer team camps. Former high school teammate Byrant Fitzerald, a rising redshirt sophomore defensive back, is also a prominent member of the program.

“There’s definitely a brotherhood here,” James said.

So during a visit to Columbus, Ohio for the Buckeyes’ Oct. 6 home game with the Hoosiers, James decided to change his mind.

He had already been considering a switch for a couple weeks at that point, and after watching the Hoosiers put a scare into the Buckeyes that afternoon in Ohio Stadium — No. 3 Ohio State won 49-26 — James called IU coach Tom Allen the next day and flipped his commitment.

“I see how close we are to definitely being there, one of the top programs in the Big Ten,” James said. “I see how close we are. I definitely saw it that game (in October). We competed well for three quarters, just fell a little short in that last quarter. But I definitely see the potential, and I definitely believe in the program 100 percent. I believe in Coach Allen. I believe in the strength staff and I believe in the players that are around me. There’s a lot of young talent, so I believe in the program and believe we’re gonna do great things.”

With James competing for a spot, Indiana has high hopes for its 2019 backfield.

Headlining the group is rising sophomore Stevie Scott, who set IU true freshman records with 1,137 yards, 228 carries, 10 touchdowns and six 100-yard games last fall. Scott’s classmate Ronnie Walker will also be in the mix, as will rising junior Cole Gest and incoming freshman Ivory Winters.

“It’s a lot of talent,” James said. “I feel like we’re gonna push each other to be great every day. That’s what you want out of a running back room. I’m excited to work with those guys and I feel like we can push each other to be better and complement each other on the field. I’m excited to work with those guys.”

The fact that 17 true freshmen saw the field under Allen in 2018 also feeds James’ belief that he can help sooner than later. Those familiar with James’ skill set agree.

During his years at Avon, he rushed for 3,451 career yards on 573 carries (6.0 average) with 38 rushing touchdowns and 41 total scores.

“(He’s) explosive,” Fitzgerald said. “Very powerful runner. He can see holes. He’s good with that stiff arm he has. I taught him that, by the way, during my days at running back. But no, Sampson’s a really good guy. My time at Avon, when I played with him, he was just hungry. He would always ask me questions, ‘what should I look for when I hit the hole,’ stuff like that. He’s a guy that’s eager to learn and is a really hard runner. … He was definitely the hardest person I had to tackle in high school besides (fellow Hoosier athlete) Reese Taylor.”

With Indiana’s spring practice season set to begin Saturday, James is looking to put a good foot forward.

He’s striving to make an early impression, setting the course for securing a role for the fall.

He’s already off to a good start.

“I love the dude,” Ballou said. “Got a chance to (talk with him) through the whole process. Me and him had a lot of really good conversations and he ended up where he needed to end up. He came to the right place.”

(Photo courtesy IU Athletics)


  1. Nothing any sweeter than flipping a commit from OSU, not to mention beating out the other offers on the table. Hope to see this become the norm, not the exception.

    1. Too early in the morning, forgot to mention really like everything I see in this young man. On the way to becoming an outstanding representative for IUFB.

  2. I get it. Very Good recruit for IU and it makes for a nice article. However, always nice player expectations of hope stories every year. Then, hope is still there in August and first half of September. Hope fades in October and is lost in November. It represents Fall season at IU.
    It would do Hoosiers best to Just win a football game.

    1. Gloom and doom.

      Quick quiz. What football coach has won the most games in his first 2 seasons as the Hoosiers’ head coach in the modern era of football?

      1. Depends on what you’re calling the modern era Chet.

        Probably Bill Lynch with 10 wins, followed by Wilson & Heoppner with 9 each. Only problem with Lynch is that 7 were in his 1st year with a team inherited from Heoppner, all down hill after that.

          1. Wasn’t just the fingers not engaged was it? Was thinking historically before TA, but you’re right Lynch & TA have 10 each in first 2 years.

    2. That’s true t,
      Don’t know about you, but I am looking for one thing this year. Will IU have a competent QB who can also stretch the field? Everything else about the team will have to improve across the board as this year will be a tougher schedule. Last year’s D was in retool mode with so many lost from prior year. Everybody now has 3 years in TA’s D schemes and DC focusing the it and nothing else. It is not too much to expect the D to be much stronger this year.

      A lot of returning parts to the O and a new OC with a good track record. Graduated a few parts on the entire team, but should be plenty to step up. Another very good recruiting class to add to the mix. The single defining question will be the same this year as it has been the last 2, will the QB play be improved sufficiently to generate at least 6 or 7 wins? The last 2 years the answer to that question has been a resounding, NO.

  3. Sure seems all the “other” sports chatter begins earlier and earlier with each layer of dust atop the lore of what was once Hoosier Basketball.

    Talking anything football in early February(even a spun recruit nabbed from OSU) may seem a wonderful bright sunny Monday morning at the Scoop Retirement Center, but this Hoosier still longs for more than bingo in February.

    Meanwhile, another great season of hoops for much of the Midwest leaves us to retire early to bed; no need to stay up for those late evening, 9pm & 10 pm tip-offs, on opening week of March Madness. Another season to sleep…Another season to dream of football in February.. Another season to listen to ‘thinkaboutit’ lift the SEC to even higher heights in pigskin while I have no glory in round ball to shove into his jaw.

    Bring out the bingo(a.k.a. Hoosier Football)…for Hoosier fans are now just riding out whatever is left of a basketball heyday long ago in the rear view mirror. The ‘Everything Hinges” must have been the coffin…The ‘Movement’ must have been to the cemetery…The ‘Hoosier Rising’ must have been the spirit of the banners never given a proper final burial.
    The trees remain in winter dormancy. The cold has blown in again as another polar vortex settles into the heartland. February is bingo mornings and clinging to football like a heart monitor on the intensive care floor. Hoosier Basketball is resting and too tired for bingo….We keep saying it’s just a cold but we know better. Our old hoops friend is passing and there’s nothing we can do ….BINGO!

  4. Agree regarding QB play. Disagree roughly 83% regarding wins and losses because over the last 100 years IU football has won 6 or more games about 17 times with their own respective hopes and aspirations for each season. I agree regarding wins and losses at 6 or higher at 17%.

  5. Tom Allen is the first coach since Clyde Smith (1948) to be given the reins of the program after the outgoing coach had left with a .500 or above season. Smith was hired after the outgoing coach, Bo McMillin, decided to coach in the NFL.
    Now there’s some history for you! Bo got an NFL gig coaching the Detroit Lions…He was also the last coach at IU to win an ‘outright’ conference title in football (‘Big Nine’ before becoming ‘Big Ten’).

    Another interesting fact: Bo McMillin died on March 31, 1952 (exactly 21 years after the death of Knute Rockne). He is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery, Bloomington, Indiana.

  6. It’s a good story, and it is satisfying to know we got James over OSU, ND, MI, etc. But for IU to really play with the big boys, we have to sign 15 or more guys like James in every recruiting class for several years in a row. I know, one step at a time, and this was certainly a big step, but let’s keep our expectations based in reality.

    1. Agreed Po,

      It is a process, the 1967 experience doesn’t happen all that often at IU. I will say again, and I know you will agree, the QB play or lack thereof, will define the ’19 season just like it did ’17 & especially ’18.

  7. I agree that QB play will be instrumental for the 2019 IU football season. My impression is that there should be a pretty decent QB, assuming Penix comes back healthy, and especially if Tuttle is cleared to play. The prospect of another season of Ramsey at the helm is not a great option in my opinion, but I do think he is at least a serviceable option. I like the number and abilities of returning players on both sides of the ball, along with a promising Freshman class. Maybe my thinking is a little clouded, but I don’t see any gaping holes in this upcoming year’s team. Hope springs eternal……

  8. If the Big Ten would start playing 8 conference games like the ACC and SEC, instead 9 Conference games, maybe I U Football and the other non-power conference teams could have a more bowl chances. I think I U Football Coaches would like an eight game conference schedule.

  9. I agree South, if the Big Ten played 8 conference games, TA probably has back to back 6-6 seasons with 2 bowl games. As far as Sampson James, I could see him redshirting this year. He reminds me of a better version of Divine Redding. But with Scott and Walker, IU has a nice combination of power and speed. James could use a year to put on some muscle. He’s a between the tackles runner and those guys take a beating. I also think Ivory Winters, the 3 star from Missouri, may see playing time ahead of James. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cole Gest is moved to slot receiver to keep him healthy and on the field.

  10. You are correct, think, and I agree. For a team with IU’s level of talent, the Quarterback either makes the season or he breaks the season. A really good quarterback can make everyone around him better and lead an offense with otherwise average talent to being highly productive. Putting it another way, if an offense is loaded with 5-star linemen, backs and receivers, it’s quarterback can be average and the offense will still score a lot of points (“just don’t lose the game for us young man”). Or if a team has a dominant, shut-down defense, it can get away with an average quarterback. But for teams made up mostly of 3-star talent, it simply must have an above-average QB if it wants to score enough points to produce a winning season. That’s why I’ve always been baffled that IU is not a more attractive destination for talented quarterbacks. It’s an opportunity to showcase their talent against great competition without battling three or four other highly rated recruits for playing time.

    1. Po,
      I agree IU is a good location for quality QBs to show what they have, but will they get out in one piece? Got to have a line good enough to keep them on their feet.

      1. IU’s O-line routinely grades out better than a good chunk of power five bowl teams. The QB play is what’s going to define this upcoming season.

        1. FS,
          Good info on the OL, but as most who understand IU’s problems the last 2 years you know, it is the QB play, period. If you don’t have the correct talent at QB, it is no different than the IUBB team with no shooters. How many NFL teams have we seen built with everything necessary to make a Super Bowl run except the one essential element of a franchise caliber QB. A great QB talent can make an otherwise poor to mediocre team look much different, such as Antwaan Randle El did for IU many years ago. He may or may not have been a NFL caliber QB, but Randle El was certainly everything any team could have desired at the collegiate level.

          If you don’t have the prerequisite level of capability at QB, just like a BB team without shooters, there is really not much a coach can do to scheme around the deficiency. Try fighting with one arm tied behind your back against an equal or superior opponent without such limitation. You will find out very quickly what both this year’s FB & BB teams have experienced. Creativity and imagination doesn’t go very far against a collapsed defense in the paint or 8-9 men in the box on FB field.

  11. Well if IU would only play one big ten game (big ten game IU won) instead of current 9 from a previous post then IU could be undefeated in big ten play.

    Randle El and team could only get to 5 wins. Is that really much different?

        1. That’s what I’m getting at. Put that Randle El on the current IU team and they’re probably at worst 7-5 with a potential 9-3 regular season.

          The B1G East has all of the traditional powers but Ohio St. is the only one that I think IU can’t beat right now. Michigan refuses to learn how to defend the spread option, James Franklin is an excellent recruiter at Penn St but not a good X’s and O’s guy and it showed last season especially. Michigan St isn’t anything special. I think Mike Locksley is another version of James Franklin for Maryland. I know Locksley won the Broyles Award but I think that had more to do with Tua and his all-star cast of receivers than Locksley’s coaching.

          1. Yeah, I was just day dreaming about how Mallory or Pont’s best teams would have fared with a Randle El or Trent Green at the controls. No offense to Gonso or Schnell, but what a defensive nightmare with Randle El handing the ball off to AT or throwing to some of those receivers, talk about pick your poison. Cover them or deal with him one on one in the open field. One can only dream but who knows, maybe Penix or Tuttle will be just the offensive tonic TA has been looking for. One can only, just keep saying to yourself, “If it can happen for the Cubs, it can happen for IUFB!”

          2. “If it can happen for the Cubs, it can happen for IUFB!”

            Stop picking on the Cubs. The Cubs won a pennant in the forties….They dominated the National League in ’69 until the final weeks. They were set to win it all until a routine grounder slipped through Durham’s legs at San Diego.
            There was the Steve Bartman year and the interference never called on fan interference…as the floodgates opened for the Marlins dooming another great Cubs’ season and another eyelash from the World Series.

            The Cubs have had wonderful seasons and winning seasons well into September and October until misfortune or late-surging teams proceeded to take their place at the Divisional Championship…or World Series stage.
            Please don’t make that into IU Football. Don’t do that to countless ‘Hall of Fame’ baseball players and please don’t do it to ‘Mr. Cub’ .
            IU Football never threatens anyone. There is no Mr. IU Football or any name worthy of dedication on such a level. IU Football is never close. They are never cursed. They are simply ALWAYS losers and there is nothing “lovable” about within a weak conference that can’t even threaten anyone in the SEC.
            The “loser” fan support of IU Football can never be compared to the Cubs. Cubs fans never stopped giving up.
            IU Football Fans gave up long ago….(assuming you judge such emotions by the numbers who care to attend an IU Football game). The Cubs are supported by fans in Chicago(and worldwide) as if they were the Ohio State of college football.

            Pick on the Boston Red Sox.

          3. That’s a no brainer H4H, I’m a Yankees fan, don’t mention anything baseball wise north of NY.

  12. WOW!! Really an Indiana fan can criticize other university football coaches and programs, for what their coaches can do and cannot do, while the Indiana University football program has rarely defeated those program. Has Tom Allen defeated Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State or Purdue?? Oh yeah Tom Allen teams have only defeated Rutgers, Illinois and Maryland in the Big Ten. Of which all three programs are going thru their own problems. I really do not think Indiana football can criticize other coaches or programs until the Indiana football program, can manage to defeat those programs at least once in a while (blue moon).

    1. IU79- Sure I can criticize other B1G football programs! LOL. I know that coming from an IUFB fan that it’s probably extremely laughable to the masses of the older IUFB fans. I know the history of IUFB and it isn’t very pretty but it’s going to get better. A lot better. I get that you’ll have to see it to believe it and that’s totally fair. Coach TA is building the right way and it will pay off.

      1. fishspinners – you are correct freedom of speech gives you the right to criticize…but I am fairly sure that every coach prior to Tom Allen thought they where building the football program in the right way. The question becomes is “will it pay off”. maybe not this year with a new offensive cord and a new person calling the defense, but hopefully the following year.

  13. If or that = 5 wins. It was the same old story.
    El was one of my all time favorite IU football players. Maybe my all time favorite. Play after play getting beat up. By middle of third quarter El played on guts, determination, pain, and exhaustion. It was a small miracle he played the way he did without major injury pretty much always bouncing up for next play and then game. El was always an enthusiastic leader and I never heard him complain. Rather just trying to encourage team and even went along with playing a different position letting a teammate play quarterback until that didn’t work so he had to willingly go back to playing quarterback. No thought about doing anything but being a great leader and teammate.

    1. Yup, I know t, but it sure is fun to dream. Kinda like thinking about the ’73 Final Four meeting between IU & UCLA if the foul had been called on Walton as it should have been, instead of Downing.

      1. What? We won 3 NCAA titles after that horrible call….There was no “dreaming” with Bob Knight teams. There was kicking ass North, South, East and West. IU has two major “targets” on their respective backs.

        IU Basketball will forever be a target and mean something to everyone they play because the traumatic memories still left intact by the legendary coach whose genius tattooed the Establishment while putting the greatest basketball state, Indiana, on its rightful stage. Hell, ESPN (Establishment Sports Pipsqueak Nerds) is still trying to drag Knight’s name the mud (unfairly and unjustly taking great teams and legendary Hoosier names with their Establishment “targeting” agenda).
        IU Football will forever remain a target and feared due to one and only one thing ▬ the damage it can cause to reputations if to lose to such hapless and historic ineptitude. It’s a different sort of tattoo…..”Huh? You lost to IU?”

          1. You’re kidding….? And Milan beat Muncie Central when white kids could jump too.
            Knight was getting IU basketball on the national stage nearly every season in his heyday. He was getting us to Final Fours nearly ever five years. Yes, it remains to this day why IU Basketball is hated/targeted by the Establishment and why every team still gets up when they play the candy stripes.
            Two banners wouldn’t cover the wall…Two titles would be blips on the Big Ten radar and of nothing of lore or bragging rights exceeding all the other schools of our conference with very few(as in one or two).
            Despise the man as most in the Establishment do…but it is Bob Knight who put the ‘D’ in the center of InDiana….and the “In” as ‘in the NCAA tournament’ with a frequency we’ll likely never see again in our lifetimes. Archie pretty much said the same thing in his last interview with Don Fischer. Teams get very ‘up’ for Indiana….home or away.
            Coach K isn’t crap without what he learned under Knight….but he is a decent enough man to admit it. Credit to him for applying the knowledge and expanding upon it. Credit to him for never ceasing to recognize the contribution to the game from his most influential mentor(unlike many IU fans who, seemingly, want to discredit the man and trivialize the accomplishments).

      2. I remember that game. Skipped my wife’s graduation from nursing school to watch the game. Well, now my ex-wife. Appropriately,

  14. The IU teams that Randle El quarterbacked only produced one 5-win season (2000). Those IU teams had horrible defenses! But Randle El was one of the all time best college quarterbacks in history, not just IU history. He was a phenomenal athlete who played BB for Bob Knight, played baseball at IU and had been drafted by the Chicago Cubs coming out of High School. Let’s not forget that he was the first player in NCAA history to pass for 40 touchdowns and score 40 career rushing touchdowns. He ended up passing for a total of 96 touchdowns. Oh, what could have been! But in our culture, we tend to forget about athletes unless they produce winning seasons or championships. Randle El deserves to be remembered for his greatness, regardless of his team’s losing seasons.

  15. Sorry, I made an error. IU produced two five-win seasons while Randle El was at IU (2000 and 2001).

    Chet, in my opinion, he was absolutely the most talented player to ever play for IU. Quinn Buckner was a phenomenal dual-sport athlete, and could have played DB in the NFL, but I think Randle El was even better. I think it was Joe Paterno who said Randle El was the “most dangerous” football player that he had ever coached against. Hayden Fry said Randle El was “the most exciting quarterback I’ve seen in this conference in years and years and years.” Randle El’s honors and accolades are legendary. Big Ten Freshman of the Year, First Team All American QB, Big Ten Player of the Year, 6th in Heisman Trophy votes (that was a disgrace, only players on winning teams are legitimate candidates for the Heisman), and the first player ever to accumulate 2,500 yards from scrimmage in four consecutive years. We’ll not see the likes of Randle EL again in my lifetime.

  16. wI agree about Randle El because of his play at IU and in the NFL.

    Po, it appears very good QBs now consider IU as a place to come and ply their trade with Penix and Tuttle on campus. I am counting on both being able to compete this fall so IU has a shot at having the most talented QB starting this season. A new OC with the talent in the RB room, receiver room, TE room the and an OL that looks to be improved IU’s offense could be much more dangerous.

    The team should show promise in 2019 with a better season in 2020. 2019 is the year for IU to win a game or two they aren’t expected to win.

  17. It is a shame that The Hoosier Nation, IU’s coaching staff and Tuttle must rely on the NCAA to rule on his eligibility. I have no faith in the NCAA or any of their overpaid bureaucrats to what’s right. They major in minors, tend to favor big money programs and appear obsessed complicate minor matters while claiming to be impotent in the face of major rules violations and cheating scandals (UNC Basketball’s fake academics, etc.). Given Title Nine, Congress should replace the NCAA with a new department with the power to govern and police collegiate athletics. As it currently exists, the NCAA is a corrupt and worthless organization.

  18. If Tuttle is ruled ineligible, Penix starts and Ramsey is the backup. Ramsey will then probably graduate in December and go somewhere for 1 season as a grad transfer and Penix and Tuttle battle each other next year for the starting job- not the end of the world and miles ahead of what IU usually has for Quarterbacks. Penix just showed so many flashes last year. As long as he learns he doesn’t always need to throw fastballs, I think he’s the starter.

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