“I feel like I can make big-time plays” — IU freshman RB Jaylin Lucas has everyone wanting more

All offseason long, Indiana’s coaching staff mentioned freshman running back Jaylin Lucas as a breakout candidate to watch for during the team’s 2022 campaign.

In Saturday’s 35-21 loss at Nebraska, Lucas broke out – literally – for a 34-yard run late in the first half, dashing and bouncing past multiple Nebraska defenders to set up the Hoosiers for one of their two offensive touchdowns on the night.

The crowd at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln let out “oohs” and “aahs.”

BTN color commentator and four-time Super Bowl champ Matt Millen has seen a lot of football in his lifetime, but he couldn’t restrain his excitement.

“One broken ankle.  TWO broken ankles,” Millen said during the replay of Lucas’ run.  “That’s phenomenal.”

For Lucas, the play was just a glimpse of the role he looks to fill for the team in 2022 and beyond – game-breaking speed and an ability to create an explosive play out of any situation with elite shiftiness in space.

“I feel like I’m developing well into that role,” Lucas said Tuesday. “Just whenever my name is called, I feel like I can make big-time plays. Learning from a veteran like Shaun [Shivers] and Josh Henderson, I feel like they have taught me a lot.”

The true freshman’s speed and versatility are the two traits that stick out the most, lining up both at running back and slot receiver. Head coach Tom Allen sees Lucas’s development and increased role as a major point of emphasis for the team as the Hoosiers head into the heart of conference play.

“We want to and need to and expect to get him the ball more,” Allen said on Monday.  “He’ll be returning kicks for us now consistently. And then just trying to get him more touches without question because he obviously showed what he can do with the ball in his hand in that game.”

While Lucas has displayed elite speed and lateral movement in open space, the coaching staff still sees several areas of improvement for the first-year player. Among other focuses, pass blocking is a point of emphasis, for the 5-foot-9, 170-pound running back, as he attempts to earn a larger share of snap counts.

“We’re all very aware that Jaylin is a really good player,” offensive coordinator Walt Bell said on Monday.  “Early in this you know when you kind of have a full boat and you got D.J. Matthews and Cam (Camper) and we’ve got good tailbacks in Shawn Shivers and Josh Henderson, and there’s a little bit of a growth curve there (for Lucas) from a past protection standpoint.”

While Lucas still has areas to improve on in the team’s final seven games of the season, the Houma, La. product has adjusted to the collegiate game as quickly as he can run. When it comes to being a quick study, he credits growing up playing against elite talent on the Louisiana high school football and 7-on-7 circuits, as well as learning from his older brother, Florida State wide receiver Ja’Khi Douglas.

“It keeps going on and on, the guys prepare me a lot,” Lucas said. “Just playing against them, even on the 7-on-7 circuit, it was a hell of a lot of athletes out there in Louisiana.”

Lucas has emerged as not only a piece of Indiana football’s future, but potentially a key to its present. But if you ask the running back, many people never thought he would make it this far.

He was a three-star prospect without much Power Five interest a year ago.  But IU saw him in the summer of 2021 and stayed in contact, and Lucas flipped during the early signing period from Tulane to Indiana.

And now, after a lifetime of being doubted due to his shorter stature, Lucas is on a mission to prove naysayers wrong.

“I’ve been doubted all of my life,” Lucas said. “I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder. By me getting the extra work in, it just put me over everybody else. I guess everybody has started to see what I can do.”

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