Fryfogle shines bright in win versus Michigan

The rise of Indiana receiver Ty Fryfogle can be described as a quiet one.

Spending most of his career with one or two established receivers ahead of him, the 6-foot-2, 214-pound senior from Lucedale, Miss., has always been productive, but rarely IU’s No. 1 option. Not to mention, Fryfogle was never going to attract eyes off the field. He’s so calm and soft-spoken, IU receivers coach Grant Heard has questioned whether Fryfogle even has a pulse.

“Ty, he’s not a loud guy, he’s mainly quiet, but he talks with his play,” IU quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said. “And that’s what I love about him.”

This past Saturday versus Michigan, the Hoosiers’ quiet but steady receiver went off like a flashbang.

On IU’s first drive, Fryfogle took a swing route and juked inside, leaving Michigan safety Brad Hawkins reaching, helpless, as the senior receiver escaped for 20 yards. Fryfogle kept it going on IU’s third series, rolling into the oversized IU Credit Union placards behind the end zone after a 24-yard touchdown catch.

The punctuation mark for his seven-catch, 142-yard performance — both career highs — was a one-handed grab along the sideline, just holding off Michigan corner Vincent Gray with his left hand, while Fryfogle’s right served as a bucket for Penix to drop the football in.

In seven fell swoops, all in the first half, Fryfogle displayed a potential that belies his understated career and personality. His ceiling, in the eyes of his coaches, has always gone well beyond the rank of good college receiver.

“To me, if you want a wide receiver, that’s who you look at,” said Matt Caldwell, Fryfogle’s high school coach. “If you build one, you build one like Ty Fryfogle.”

Caldwell built an offense to fit his prototype receiver at George County High. Admittedly, it wasn’t his first plan.

A former offensive lineman and run-loving coach, Caldwell arrived at George County in February 2016 after nearly a decade at his previous school. In the stands at a George County basketball game, Caldwell watched his soon-to-be receiver dunking on the other team.

“I saw him two-hand reverse one and it seemed like it was effortless for him to get off the floor,” Caldwell said. “I was like ‘Oh my gosh, this kid has a chance to be special.’”

Once spring football arrived, and Caldwell took stock of his full complement of athletes, his plans for a run-centric offense were ditched. His first team at George County had a half-dozen scholarship athletes on the offensive side of the ball, including Fryfogle’s point guard, LaRaymond Spivery, who was his quarterback on the gridiron.

“Tyrese wasn’t the only guy, but he wasn’t a selfish guy,” Caldwell said. “He understood we have to spread this ball around to be successful. He made things happen when he had the ball in his hands. That took me about five minutes to figure out.”

There is still a highlight on Fryfogle’s Hudl page from his time at George County, simply labeled “Touchdowns.” He had 14 as a senior, often using his vertical leap to win jump balls. Because of his hops, as well as his tackle-breaking, Caldwell recalled a frequent question of some.

A question in search of a weakness.

“There were always people asking me how fast is he,” Caldwell said.

For that reason, Caldwell recalls one post route, where Fryfogle left an opponent’s secondary in the dust.

“He caught that post and outran everybody,” Caldwell said. “Well, he’s that fast. He’s as fast as he needs to be.”

IU’s coaching staff saw the complete package Fryfogle could offer. Heard, the Hoosiers’ receivers coach, played with Fryfogle’s dad, Trey, at Ole Miss in 2000. In a recruiting battle, IU beat out Ole Miss.

The year Fryfogle arrived at IU, injuries hit the receiver room, so he had to play early. That was before the four-game rule, so the Hoosiers had to burn his redshirt for eight appearances in 2017, which yielded one catch for 13 yards. But Fryfogle continued to make steady progress in the years to come, refining his route-running, and strengthening his frame for the college game.

He learned from elder statesmen like Nick Westbrook and Donavan Hale, who Fryfogle had to share playing time with as a sophomore and junior.

“In high school, you kind of just run routes. You don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re making plays in high school,” Fryfogle said. “When you get here, you have to be coached up to know what you are doing and understand the game on a different level.”

Sophomore year, Fryfogle collected 29 catches for 381 yards. That jumped to 45 for 604 as a junior. While slot receiver Whop Philyor and tight end Peyton Hendershot received large shares of targets — and the All-Big Ten recognition that comes with it — Heard spoke about wanting to push Fryfogle toward bigger goals.

Goals that were beyond being a great college receiver.

“Seeing people ahead of me, just seeing where they are, like Nick Westbrook, watching him play on a Sunday night, gave me motivation, like, ‘We can do this,’” Fryfogle said. “It’s cool. Just trying to progress and become a better receiver.”

The pandemic threw a wrench in everyone’s development plan, but Fryfogle met up with current and former George County athletes in Mississippi, throwing the football around. When he returned to Bloomington in June, Fryfogle hadn’t lost any ground.

The potential Fryfogle flashed Saturday, it speaks to his NFL dreams more than he will.

But that’s just his personality.

“I had to let my game do the talking,” Fryfogle said. “I just watch, try to model my game after guys like (Atlanta Falcons receiver) Julio (Jones), (Green Bay’s) Devante Adams, guys that don’t really talk that much on the field but they make big plays in big games.”

In the biggest of games — what became IU’s first win over Michigan since 1987 — Fryfogle supplied more than a few big plays. He was juking a defender in the flat for yards after the catch. He was beating a corner deep for a touchdown in the back of the end zone. He was hauling in a ball along the sideline with one hand.

He was anything but boastful after the game, simply crediting his work with Penix during the week, repping the deep ball over and over, because they knew it would be there versus Michigan’s man coverage. Simple as that.

Don’t ever expect much in the way of trash talk from Fryfogle. He can run and jump. He has an ideal frame. But he’s not going to say a whole lot.

“His demeanor was the same in high school. He probably talked less then,” Caldwell said. “He’s let his work on the field do his talking for him.”

4 comments

  1. IU will need Fryfogle to continue having games like he did against Michigan. IU has had receivers make tremendous plays already this year. Young receivers have made tremendous plays too so the future is bright with our receivers.

    Fryfogle is a great example of our coaches recognizing talent when others miss it. He was a 2 star player coming to IU but he has shown his time here that he is far better than that rating. I hope he continues on this level to earn a good shot at the NFL.

    1. I think you are seeing Penix and Fryfogle finally getting on the same page. The first couple of games Penix was throwing everything over Fryfogle’s head. Not sure if Penix thought Fryfogle has some tremendous leaping ability or he was taller than he really was, but looks like they have worked that out. I think by adding Marshall back in as that tall go up and get type receiver can free up Fryfogle for those mid range catches. I was impressed with Hewitt too as a receiver. Anyone know what is going on with Swinton? He and Marshall both were getting early praise in camp, but really haven’t heard anything about him. Was he redshirted?

      1. The last I heard was Swinton was injured and limited, his injury wasn’t supposed to be serious so I hope we see him at MSU. We still haven’t seen David Ellis and he adds a lot to the offense.

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