Luke Haggard didn’t want to play left tackle.
The IU senior played youth football for only one year before getting to Petaluma (Calif.) High School, where he played defensive end and tight end as a freshman. He moved to left tackle on offense as a sophomore, but the team ran a triple-option offense which didn’t ask as much of a left tackle as other styles do.
Haggard didn’t really start learning the craft of the position until he got to Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College. And even then, he wasn’t immediately all in. He arrived at Santa Rosa wanting to play defensive end.
“There was a coach at my junior college who told me, ‘Listen, you can play defense here if you want, but your potential for tackle is so much higher.’ He was just talking for a couple weeks before I made my decision of what I wanted to play,” Haggard said. “At first, I was like, ‘No way. I don’t know how to play that. I don’t want to play it.’ But he showed me this could have a lot of upside to it.”
Haggard learned the position, developed, and came to Indiana ahead of the 2020 season. And over the last year, Haggard has become an important part of IU’s offensive line.
After missing last year’s opener at Iowa, Haggard started every game for the rest of the season. He went on to win the team’s Chris Dal Sasso Award for outstanding lineman. Indiana’s first two games this season played out very differently, with different circumstances around them, but Haggard has still been key. Through those two games, Haggard owns an 81.6 grade on Pro Football Focus in pass blocking. That ranks 39th in the country and eighth in the Big Ten. Over the summer he was listed as the No. 9 rated NFL Draft prospect at offensive tackle by that outlet.
The IU offensive line, as a whole, has kept quarterback Connor Bazelak mostly clean thus far, with just one sack allowed. Offensive coordinator Walt Bell acknowledged it hasn’t been a flawless operation, and there have still been quarterback hurries, but he said the line has done a nice job in pass protection.
That’s an area Haggard spent time in the offseason working on. While at home during the summer, he went back to his high school field or a local park and did various drills. He watched pass protection videos during down time. All in an effort to hone his technique and improve.
He feels the work has made a difference. But he and offensive line coach Darren Hiller both know he can keep getting better.
“He just hasn’t been an offensive lineman for a whole long period of his life,” Hiller said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement and he knows those things. He made good strides from week one to week two and did some things better, but he’s just got to continue to get better, fundamentally.”
Haggard’s veteran presence on the offensive line has been big for the Hoosiers. After right tackle Matthew Bedford tore his ACL, IU was reduced to two returning starters on the line — Haggard and left guard Mike Katic. Haggard was already preparing to step into more of a leadership role this year, and his experience is even more beneficial now with the line adjusting to Parker Hanna stepping in for Bedford.
Haggard is far from the most vocal player on the team, but coaches lauded Haggard’s persistent work ethic and reliability. It sets the right example for the rest of the team, which can be just as important as a louder leader. Hiller wishes Haggard would speak up more, but knows that’s not who he is, and they don’t want to force him to be someone he isn’t.
IU head coach Tom Allen praised Haggard’s quiet leadership and the way he helps define the culture of the offensive line room and the team as a whole.
“Even though you may not be a real verbal person, but just to play speaks for itself in so many ways, and at that position for sure,” Allen said. “The more older guys you’ve got that are strong in their daily habits and work ethic that they bring every day, that creates the standard. When young guys come in here, they get pulled into it because they understand that’s how it’s going to be expected for me to practice, lift, run, and train here, and how I’m going to study film. He does a great job of that.”
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