James committed to running the rock for IU

It was just the click of a button.

But in today’s world, when a player like Indiana running back Sampson James hits that button — entering the NCAA’s transfer portal — one click can cause quite a stir.

“Two years ago, you wouldn’t have even known the kid was thinking that,” IU running backs coach Mike Hart said. “Now you just click a button, and the whole world knows.”

It was the first week of March, on a Monday, when news broke that the freshman, a coveted four-star recruit from Avon, was in the portal. Exactly seven months to the day James officially pulled his name out — a day when Hoosier fans breathed a collective sigh of relief — the sophomore was in front of the media, offering even more assurances.

“This is where I want to be,” James said. “That decision was definitely a mistake, but I’m all in for the Hoosiers.”

In what quickly turned into an unconventional offseason for everyone, James put that mistake far behind him. The focus has been on his growing potential as a dynamic rusher, which the football world saw in a brilliant performance against Purdue last November, rushing for 118 yards in Stevie Scott’s stead.

His brief trip to the transfer portal was just an odd twist, but an understandable one. When James clicked the button, IU was on the verge of losing strength coach David Ballou to Alabama. Ballou was a mentor to James when he worked in Avon’s school system.

Unfortunately, the whole world saw James’ hurt as he clicked.

“When you are close to people for a long time and something happens, sometimes you make irrational decisions,” Hart said.

In Hart’s mind, this wasn’t a moment as much as just a moment in time. James isn’t the first player in the history of college football to have his heartstrings tugged. He won’t be the last. There was no need to work on the relationship between coach and player.

It was just a click.

It’s a click James quickly took back once he had a chance to talk with his teammates and family.

“We’re real happy Sampson stayed,” Hart said. “He wanted to be here. He’s a great kid. He’s all in, so he’s been busting his tail to get ready.”

Now the intrigue is centered on what an All-Big Ten rusher in Scott and another blue-chip talent in James can do in the same backfield, each a year older.  Add versatile sophomore David Ellis to the mix after a freshman season spent mostly at receiver, and the Hoosiers have an embarrassment of riches at running back.

“The depth of our room, with Sampson, with Stevie, with David moving over, Tim (Baldwin), Ahrod (Lloyd), I think, as far as a group, it’s the most sound group we’ve had since we’ve been here,” said Hart, who is heading into his fourth season at IU. “They’re talented, they love ball, and I feel really comfortable with them out there.”

While that breakout performance versus Purdue showed James’ promise, as the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder pushed pile after pile, Hart reminded everyone that the sophomore still hasn’t played a ton of football.

Of his 81 carries last season, 33 of those came in the last two games, as Scott was sidelined with an injury.

The hope is with Scott and James back — and three of IU’s five starters on the offensive line returning — IU will be better positioned to run the ball consistently versus Big Ten defenses.

“We have to commit ourselves as a coaching staff to running the ball,” Hart said. “As long as we do that, we have the tools. We have the o-line to do it. We have the talent in the backfield to do it. I’m looking forward to when we are game-planning, seeing what’s the best way to get these guys the ball.”

James feels prepared to carry more of the load. In the weight room, he’s found himself working with an acquaintance of Ballou, new strength coach Aaron Wellman, who started his career at IU when Ballou was just a Hoosier fullback. While the pandemic robbed the Hoosiers of the training time they would have desired, the running backs haven’t taken many hits this offseason, either.

They are all fresh. And despite everything, James thinks Wellman has been able to get him stronger.

“I feel like they are very knowledgeable, they always explain why we’re doing something, for sure, which I feel like helps out a lot,” James said. “Great staff, no complaints at all. Love Coach Wellman.”

As he went into the offseason, James just kept his focus on the last two games of the season. Obviously, there was the Purdue performance, but that was followed by a more modest 25-yard effort versus Tennessee in the Gator Bowl.

He’s motivated. He also feels matured.

“The game speed is a lot slower, I’m starting to see stuff faster, quicker,” James said. “I feel like I’m adjusted to the game.”

He’s also wearing a new number, No. 6, which carries significance in recent IU history. Tevin Coleman ran for 2,000-plus yards in that number before skipping off to the 2015 NFL Draft.

In all honesty, James wasn’t gunning to have Coleman’s jersey. He just wanted one of the single-digit variety. He wore No. 2 in high school at Avon, but that was taken by receiver Jacolby Hewitt on the offensive side.

The new number was just a change James wanted to make. And it’s a change no Hoosier fan will dislike, if and when a No. 6 is running wild on opposing defenses again.

“They had a running back here that wore that number very nice,” James said, smiling. “It’s definitely, definitely nice to have someone to look up to, you know? You see what he did with that number. So I’m definitely looking forward to the season.”


  1. Several good things I get from this article, the first is that coach Wellman and staff are being well received by Sampson James and I suppose other teammates too. In the short time with this strength staff James says he is stronger this year and that should help him running the ball. I like that coach Allen mentions Baldwin as impressing this fall which pushes Arnold, James, and Scott to keep working hard to improve. One thing about an improved roster there is more pressure on players to keep improving.

    I was very glad when James changed his mind about transferring and is committed to making IU football a better team in the B1G.

  2. I find it curious, yet disrespectful, that Tennessee as seen as the 12th-14th team in the nation,..and that IU isn’t even listed at the bottom of the honorable mention list. Really! Of the 50 teams listed,..IU might be considerably superior to 35 of them. They have a legitimate shot at beating PSU on opening day. In the name of ‘justice’, I hope they pull it off. This total disregard for the program, at this late date, is irresponsible and flat out disgusting. I might also say the same for an underrated team in West Lafayette.

    1. Brad it is disgusting the pollsters are ignoring IU after last season but IU needs to beat some top teams to gain attention from them. I see the bias against IU in many articles as they rave about four star players going to other schools but IU gets ignored with their four star players. Lewis on the DL was a three star recruit but his offer sheet should have him getting rave reviews heading into the season. I hope the team has a season that keeps IUFB from being ignored in the future.

    2. How many games has UT played? What’s IU’s record to date? That explains the rankings for a program that didn’t defeat a team with a winning record a year ago.

      1. IU Football is poised to SHOCK THE WORLD!….with 100 years of static electricity.

  3. Defeat some good teams (conference and non-conference)…rather than teams who command the bottom of the sea floor of their respective divisions/conferences. Defeat teams with records averaging better than .200 W/L. Defeat some of the top tier teams in your division/conference.

    A history of losing turned around by one season of beating up your one-legged sister won’t command national respect.

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