Whitehead, Justus getting their ‘kicks’ in camp

Indiana kicker Logan Justus had an idea to appease the camera crew from Big Ten Network. He just needed fellow specialist and holder Haydon Whitehead to trust the consistency of his left-footed swing.

Rather than hold the football with his hands, Justus wanted Whitehead to pin it to the turf with his nose.

“I thought we were going to have to deal with, at the worst, a broken nose,” IU special teams coordinator William Inge said. “I said, ‘Well, if you get a broken nose and it’s facing to the left a little bit, well, welcome to America, man.’”

Whitehead, the Aussie punter, came out of Justus’ trick kick with his nose pointing straight. Inge credited Whitehead’s nose ring for steadying the ball. It seems, even in the oddest of ways, the Hoosiers’ specialists have mastered their craft with the utmost precision.

With very important results.

“I knew he wasn’t going to kick me in the face,” Whitehead said.

Through the monotony of fall camp, the specialists have kept themselves entertained, but they have also gotten down to business. Justus, a senior, has himself a competition with redshirt freshman Charles Campbell. Whitehead, in his third year with the program, continues to play an important role in the Hoosiers’ battle for field position.

But can he take his game to another level? Whitehead has averaged about the same distance per punt in two seasons — from 40.7 in 2017 to an even 40 last season. Where he regressed was placing punts inside the 20 and 10. He had 33 inside the 20, and 15 inside the 10, as a sophomore (on 85 punts). Those numbers were 17 and six, respectively, as a junior (on 51 punts).

Plenty of Hoosiers talk about the benefits of David Ballou and Dr. Matt Rhea’s strength and conditioning program, and Whitehead is no different. He believes his offseason work could translate to more power in his boots this season.

“If nothing changes technique-wise or anything like that, just having more leg strength, core strength, to get behind the ball, that will help,” Whitehead said. “In terms of numbers, no, there isn’t a goal or a focus. I’m confident that with the offseason I’ve had, if I do everything I need to do technique-wise, there will be that growth that we’re after.”

IU coach Tom Allen said Monday he has been pleased with Whitehead’s punts in camp, especially in situations where he has been trying to pin it deep. Not only that, but Allen noted Whitehead’s emergence as a leader, which isn’t exactly common for specialists.

“If you asked our strength staff, he leads at the level of a captain, in regards to effort and toughness and work ethic in the weight room and just the mindset he has,” Allen said. “You want to see it in all three phases. We need to keep getting better in special teams, and I think we have a chance to be better.”

Of course, Allen was, predictably, asked about the quarterback competition again Monday, which he said was even more muddied by weekend scrimmage action. All three played well, he said.

At the same time, the Hoosiers have a competition at kicker, as well. Justus, who debuted with an All-Big Ten season in 2018, is getting pushed by Campbell. Inge came into camp saying Campbell was “chewing” on the back of Justus’ shoes, and he modified that assessment Monday.

“Charles can taste what his heels (are) like right now,” Inge said. “He’s through the shoes.”

Campbell, who was considered one of the top five kicking recruits in his class, has the pedigree to push the walk-on Justus. But after a season where Justus was put in some pressure situations, including a game-winning field goal versus Maryland, the fifth-year senior came into camp with some confidence.

“My mental toughness has gone up a lot, obviously. With the experience, it helps a lot,” Justus said. “I’m able to stay more calm in situations and know what to do and everything.”

And he’s certainly able to keep his foot steady. Not that a former Australian rules football player couldn’t have dealt with a broken nose.

“Nothing I haven’t had before. It’s all right,” Whitehead said.

Mic drop

Speaking of keeping things light during fall camp, tight ends coach Nick Sheridan succeeded in that endeavor over the weekend.

The 31-year-old assistant stood in front of the team and performed Ella Mai’s “Boot Up” as part of a karaoke session. A video of Sheridan’s performance made its way onto social media via tight end Peyton Hendershot’s Twitter account.

“I think the players enjoyed it,” Sheridan said. “I can’t sing a lick, but that’s not really what karaoke is all about. Hopefully, the guys will get a kick out of it and, like I said, it’s always good to put yourself out there. It’s a lesson for the players, don’t take yourself too serious.”

Sheridan got some good reviews from the players on social media. Hendershot tagged the video with “Yessuh, that’s my coach!” Freshman defensive tackle Sio Nofoagatoto’a added, “Coach swagged.”

But don’t expect Sheridan to pick up the mic professionally any time soon.

“I haven’t gotten any phone calls yet,” Sheridan said. “I don’t anticipate that happening.”

Injury update

Sophomore corner Reese Taylor is still nursing a hand injury, Allen said, while freshman tight end Gary Cooper could be out for a few weeks with a lower leg injury.

Along with his role in the secondary, Taylor could factor into the return game this season for the Hoosiers. Junior receiver Whop Philyor and redshirt junior running back Cole Gest continue to fulfill those roles, and redshirt junior “husky” Marcelino Ball has also been back fielding kicks.

Pechac update

Bloomington South product Kristian Pechac has retired from the Hoosier football program.

Pechac, who once starred at running back for South, was originally recruited to IU as a scholarship player. He ended up decommitting but eventually walked on. The 5-foot-11, 209-pounder played on special teams in three games last season. He received carries during IU’s spring game.

In fall camp, Pechac shifted out of a crowded backfield and worked at the “husky” position.

7 comments

  1. I am pretty confident with IU’s kicking game and special teams. But I had a thought about does IU’s kicking game affect how new OC DeBoer calls plays? But more importantly, I wanted some insight from other bloggers on this sight to what a college OC does in the booth when his team doesn’t have the ball. I’ve coached football before but never at this high of a level. Obviously, field position, personnel availability due to injury, playing conditions (wind), etc. will affect much of what they call. Any thoughts?

  2. I haven’t coached at the B1G level either but what I have learned when talking to B1G coaches they are communicating with their coaches on the field when the team doesn’t have the ball. They discuss what they have seen, some run scripted plays to help determine what the defense will do giving the coaches a sense of what adjustments to make. Being in the booth sounds like a chess match between coaches on opposing teams.

  3. I’m confident about IU’s kicking game, but based on last year’s performance, I have no reason to be confident about the performance of IU’s Special Teams. But I guess there’s only one way IU’s Special Teams can go, and that’s up.

  4. I think the combination of improved ST’s, a stout D emphasizing ‘takeaways’ and a competent OC running the offense with aggressive targeted play calling gets us to a bowl competition. With 2 young and most importantly hungry coordinators and Allen putting his stamp on ST’s with expanded talent and lots of experience puts IUFB in the best position it’s been in decades.

  5. HC, I agree with you and hope IU puts it all together this year. The news out of camp is good news and that helps establish confidence in the team. IU’s offense has some very good players with an OC that takes advantage of the talent on the offense. Our defense is making things tough for our offense with receiver making good catches, that bodes well for both sides. I like that coach Wommack simplified the defense to let the young play makers excel and it will be a fun defense to watch. If ST are much better this year IU can have a winning season and help win more games this season. I like Gest being a returner but I wish they would use Williams since he is IU’s “fastest” player and IU has plenty of depth at Corner. Let’s go Hoosiers make this a special season for the fans.

Leave a Reply