In at least one respect, playing on the offensive line is akin to being an Indiana football fan.
It takes a special breed to put in so much time and energy with so few rewards.
The true IU football fans come back year after year with renewed optimism, with the thought that one day, one day, there will be another magical season like 1967 or 1945.
For an offensive lineman like senior left tackle Coy Cronk, the potential rewards are a bit more tangible than that. And certainly more recent than 1967. The Lafayette native has seen several former recent vintage Hoosiers, including former teammates, go on to play in the NFL.
While the ultimate team prize has been far from reach for decades at IU, there has been a clear path from Bloomington to the highest individual level for several Hoosier offensive linemen.
“The standard is there,” Cronk said. “It was there before I got there. Rodger Saffold, he just signed a third contract for a lot of money, and then Jason (Spriggs), Dan (Feeney) and all those guys.”
Add Cronk’s most recent teammate, Washington Redskins guard Wes Martin to the list.
Cronk has the talent to be the next Hoosier offensive lineman to play professionally. He has started all 36 games in which he has appeared at left tackle since his arrival at Indiana.
But before he spends too much time thinking about the NFL, Cronk has unfinished business in Bloomington.
Offensive linemen grind away while the skill position players get the fame and notoriety. Cronk embraces that aspect of his position. It isn’t personal headlines that he is looking for during his senior season.
“There’s no better feeling than when Stevie Scott rips off a 60-yard touchdown,” Cronk said. “That’s euphoric. I love running down the field, I’m fist pumping, I’m getting after it.”
But in his true selfless offensive lineman form, the 6-foot-5, 325 pound Cronk won’t be satisfied with just helping out his teammates this year.
“I know we have passionate fans, but I want to give them a marquee win like my freshman year when we beat Michigan State when they were a top 25 team at home,” Cronk said.
If Indiana is going to pull off a win or two of that magnitude in 2019, it will be in no small part because of the offensive line.
The Hoosiers appear to be stacked at the skill positions on offense. If the holes are created and the protection is sound, this could be a very good offense under new coordinator Kalen DeBoer.
But that can only happen with a strong offensive line that returns three senior starters and others with experience, but does have some questions marks when it comes to depth.
And if the marquee wins do happen, and the guys up front are a major part of the reason why? Well, you probably won’t know it.
“I’ve always said, it take a special person to play on the offensive line,” Cronk said. “It’s the only position on the field where you have five people working in unison to accomplish a goal for someone else to take the credit for. That’s the only thing in sports like it.”
Could it be those unique traits of an offensive lineman that have drawn so many recent greats to Bloomington?
“It takes a special person to play at Indiana,” Cronk said. “You have to have someone that wants to absolutely change a culture, and go somewhere that hasn’t won a whole lot, and there’s a lot of negative mentalities and a lot of people don’t believe you can do it.”
Cronk perhaps had a better insight than most into what is possible at IU. His father Nick was a graduate assistant under IU’s all-time winningest coach Bill Mallory during the 1992 and 1993 seasons. That 1993 season was IU’s last campaign with at least eight wins.
There were likely stories of a different kind of success at IU in his home growing up, and Cronk got a small taste of it during his 2016 freshman season, with a bowl game appearance and that win over the Spartans.
“Everyone rushed the field,” Cronk said. “It was packed. That was an awesome experience.”
Hoosier football fans don’t ask for much, but that 2016 season is getting smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror. There was a different head coach, and Cronk was just 18 years old. Almost instinctively as an offensive lineman, he knows it is time to deliver once again.
“We haven’t been able to give our fans that experience, it’s been three years now,” Cronk said. “And they deserve that. That’s something I really want to do. I want to win our home games especially.”
As a three year starter, Cronk has delivered at IU since day one. He’ll have one more go at it to clear a path for the running backs, for the program, and for those relatable fans.
This time Cronk says he wants to leave a permanent mark.
“This is my last chance at it. To rewrite history. To change the narrative.”
And he won’t ask for any of the credit.
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