Hale back on field, making plays for IU

The knee injury that stole most of last season from Donavan Hale also took his confidence.

But one play in the second scrimmage of fall camp put the redshirt junior receiver back on a path toward finding it.

When backup quarterback Michael Penix fired his fastball into the back of the end zone on that day in mid-August, it wasn’t clear that Hale would be able to grab it. Yet there was the 6-foot-4, 229-pound receiver leaping and re-adjusting his body in mid-air to snag the ball with one hand for the touchdown.

It was a revelatory moment for Hale, who in that second remembered what it felt like to be the player he always believed he could be.

His offensive teammates, too, recognized the significance of the catch and sprinted downfield to celebrate and share the excitement.

“I’m capable of making any kind of catch, plays like that,” Hale said. “Just to be able to get out there doing it again, and everybody seeing me doing it again, was a good sign.”

That moment built confidence for Hale, who carried that self-belief into Saturday’s 38-28 season-opening win at Florida International. Two of his four catches went for touchdowns, while his 60 yards led the team.

It was all enough to earn IU’s Offensive Player of the Week honor and lay the foundation for what could be his breakout campaign.

“He knows he can make those kinds of plays,” IU starting quarterback Peyton Ramsey said. “But to actually put it into action, put it to work, is the source of so much confidence for him.”

Hale enjoyed a similar start to last season, when he recorded career highs with five receptions for 67 yards in the loss to Ohio State. The Largo, Fla. native started the first two games, but played in only one more due to an unspecified knee injury that eventually required season-ending surgery.

He missed a lot of time, forcing him to the background and raising questions about just what kind of receiver would be returning this season.

Hale’s recovery kept him out of spring practice and it continues to limit him to this day. IU coach Tom Allen said Hale, who received scheduled days off during camp, remains on a “pitch count” during the week to keep him healthy and available for Saturdays.

“The whole objective is that he is full speed on game day,” Allen said.

Hale certainly looked the part in Miami. Beyond his two touchdown catches, Hale had another significant reception on IU’s final scoring drive of the night.

On first-and-10 at the FIU 38-yard line, Penix unleashed a back-shoulder throw downfield that Hale jumped to pull down for a 34-yard gain.

“We’ve all been pushing him to make plays like that,” offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. “That’s what he should be. He should be a playmaker.”

For parts of fall camp, Hale was inconsistent during practices. But leading into the season, Allen challenged him to be the player he believes he can be. Allen wants Hale, arguably one of the best athletes on the team, to use his size and speed more to his advantage.

More than anything, Allen wants Hale to believe there’s no defensive back in the country that can account for his skill set.

In addition to Allen, Hale credits former Hoosier Simmie Cobbs and receivers coach Grant Heard for helping him mold his game in a positive way.

“The big thing with Simmie, his confidence was through the roof,” Hale said. “And he said I just needed to keep my confidence up and believe in myself. That was the big thing when he talked with me, the way he kind of molded me.

“After (listening to) him, Coach Heard and Coach Allen, they really … Coach Heard was obviously the (main) guy boosting my confidence (to have me) just going out on the field and believing nobody could stop me. Ever. No matter who’s in front of me.”

That, right there, is confidence Hale and the Hoosiers will lean on.

“I’ve challenged him about being great at Indiana University,” Allen said. “This is an opportunity for him to rise up and take over and be a guy that they cannot cover. That’s got to be his mindset.”

10 comments

  1. Hale is a playmaker at receiver and it will be hard to double him with the Hendershot, Bjorson, Westbrook, Fryfogle, Timian, and Whop spreading the field. This receiving crew could be exciting this year when the QBs get untracked. With the issues at RB ourreceivers could lead the team to a winning season this year.

    1. V13,
      Having what appears to be a good set of receiver is a much appreciated development for IUFB. I am not so sure I am ready to concede the RB situation to a problem, not yet. I was very impressed with the play of Stevie Scott and if he can continue to develop, it would not be the first time a Freshman RB became a game changer. Neither am I prepared to give up on a couple other Freshman options.

      RT if used properly, may be able to create match up problems for defenses preoccupied with the other RBs and the receivers. Don’t forget, they also have to worry about dual threat QBs as well. I am still intrigued by the staff challenging Ronnie Walker to step up in an open manner. They obviously see something there that has not yet developed. Freshmen are always a wild card, sometimes they get up to speed quickly then at other times take a while even a year or two.

      1. I’m not particularly fond of capitalizing ‘freshmen/freshman’…at least until the small ‘f’ gets a bit stronger and puts on a few pounds.

        Were we irresponsible in playing Diamonte against BigTen East competition? Was ‘Diminutive Diamonte’ any bigger than ‘ArReeseted Development’ Taylor?

        Personally? I think it was irresponsible to play Diamonte. I think he was very fortunate to get out of town intact. I think the size and forces in the game are considerably greater since Randle El played college ball/entered the NFL. Though it doesn’t feel so long ago, it’s been nearly 20 years since Randle El graduated from high school. Because IU has such brief highlight reels in its history, twenty years appears yesterday in a very sparse, ‘This is Your Hoosier Life,’ scrapbook of memories.
        Today’s professional tennis players look like NBA players of twenty years ago…. Most female tennis players look like the East German swim team during the huge doping scandals of the 1970’s.

        Very tough to be a coach at IU Football…Your timetable is squeezed because of the negative history and cloud of stagnancy forever over Memorial. There is next to nothing in building blocks of winning to lean against in tempering the fans impatience for instant turnarounds. I think a recruit can’t be blind to such pressures. If a recruit expects to be nurtured and picked at the perfect point a grape is optimally matured for making the finest wine, I’m not sure Indiana is going to be that place. There simply isn’t enough vineyard to support such care for a single grape.

  2. IU could be in a positive dilemma. Losing a qb and 2 running backs (best to Gest) opens up an offensive paradigm shift for the 2018 football season. 1. That is if the offensive line and receivers can block. Plus running backs block but selective because they don’t need more serious injuries or major dents and dings. 2. Qb along with rest of offense minimize turnovers and interceptions 3. It could be a take your time wide open game. Who knows what to expect if blocking can hold up and major turnovers minimized. Not to over expect from R.T. but where he may be on the field and implementation of him in a play at what position due to his talent level and out of necessity. R.T. was a 3 star @ 78 per espn only because he was a small qb. Given more size he is one player that may have been a high 4 star and maybe even a 5 star. Well, maybe he might not get any taller but if has gained some weight and because of his attitude he quickly can increase his star status to 4.5 to even a 5. He seems to be one of those coaches dream players because of his intelligence about the game, team, and program but most of all his attitude.

  3. Not to over expect includes giving R.T. time to develop which T.A. will and not over use him. DeBord coaching experience could payoff for R.T. Last thing you want is an injury in his very very young college career. There has to be balance because injuries can happen anytime and sometimes are flukes. You can just try your best to minimize the possibility without being overly cautious.

  4. Agreed, Hale is a stud and would have been considered so earlier if not for injuries. Even sharing receiving headlines with the rest he is on pace for the NFL. Biggest problem with Frosh RB’s is picking up pass blocking assignments. Then when they’ve learn that they have to learn to recognize blitz schemes and pick up the D player blitzing. Some RB’s take 2-3 years before they’re reliable in pass blocking. Many never had pass blocking responsibilities in HS so it’s a brand new twist. Something Gest was a champ at and has been since early in his Frosh year. MM will get lots of playing time. Especially pass plays. He can can make a block and then become a check down receiver.

  5. H4H. I will only direct comment to professional sports though at all levels perspective has been lost. Regarding pretty much all professional sports it is worse than the East Germans because society is addicted and the drugs are professional sports.

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