Indiana running backs coach Mike Hart met with the media on Tuesday along with junior Stevie Scott and sophomore Sampson James.
Below are noteworthy items from their media availability.
Indiana opens the season on the weekend of Oct. 24 at home against Penn State.
HART SEES MOST SOUND GROUP
There were legitimate questions going into the 2019 season when it came to the running backs on the Indiana roster?
At the top of the list, how was Indiana going to keep everyone happy?
With Stevie Scott, Sampson James, Cole Gest and Ronnie Walker, Jr. all healthy and capable going into the season, there didn’t seem to be enough snaps for everyone.
Turns out, there wasn’t. Gest transferred mid-season, Walker, Jr. after the the 2019 campaign.
Heading into 2020, running backs coach Mike Hart believes that he has an even more talented bunch at his disposal, calling his 2020 ball carriers “the most sound group” he’s had since arriving at IU in 2017.
Perhaps even more impressive than the 2020 or 2019 groups was the anticipated IU stable of backs heading into the 2018 campaign. At one point the group included Morgan Ellison, Tyler Natee, Alex Rodriguez and Devonte Williams.
Scott, a freshman in 2018, was somewhere around No. 7 on the depth chart.
And then Natee, Rodriguez and Williams transferred, Ellison was removed from the team, and Gest was lost for the season in the opener.
Before week one was over, Scott was the starter.
Things can change in a hurry.
Scott missed the last two games of 2019 but has otherwise been a fixture since he took over.
Now behind him in the backfield are James, freshman Tim Baldwin, Ahrod Lloyd, David Ellis, and Charlie Spegal.
“I am excited about the group that we have, a really strong group, really fun group to be around and coach,” Hart said.
JAMES HAS MOVED ON FROM TRANSFER HICCUP
Sampson James got off to a slow start as a true freshman in 2019, but played a major role in Indiana reclaiming the Old Oaken Bucket.
Playing in a reserve role behind Scott, the 6-foot-1 and 220 pound James carried the ball 81 times for 275 yards (3.4 ypc) and three touchdowns for the 2019 season. James also caught two passes for 21 yards.
The Avon, Ind. product had a breakout game in Indiana’s win over Purdue to close out the regular season. He rushed 22 times for 118 yards and a score against the Boilermakers before suffering an injury. James also started in the Gator Bowl.
James had originally committed to Ohio State before flipping to Indiana in the fall of 2018. He was rated the No. 8 running back in the country by 247Sports at the time he committed to IU, and he was one of the highest rated recruits to ever commit to Indiana.
James put his name in the NCAA transfer portal briefly back in early March before quickly changing his mind.
“That decision was definitely a mistake,” James said on Tuesday. of his initial decision to transfer “This is where I want to be.”
James made that decision around the same time that strength and conditioning coach David Ballou left the program for Alabama. Ballou was the strength coach at Avon High School during part of James’ time there.
Whatever the story, Hart said he was very happy that James decided to stay.
“We are really happy Sampson James stayed,” Hart said. “I think that when you are close to people for a long time and something happens, sometimes they make an irrational decision. He wanted to be here, he is a great kid and he is all in.”
James has changed from No. 24 to No. 6 for his sophomore season, following in the footsteps of former IU All-American Tevin Coleman.
“They had a running back her who wore that number very nice,” James said in reference to Coleman. “It’s definitely nice to have someone to look up to. You see what he did with that number. I’m definitely looking forward to the season.”
SCOTT LOOKING FOR BIG PLAYS
Now a junior, Scott missed the Purdue game and the Gator Bowl with an injury.
The New York native said he is in a good place physically and he is looking for more explosive plays in 2020.
“Physically, I feel as though my body is in shape, Scott said.
“We got a new strength staff during the offseason and I feel that they have been helping the whole team get better. They have improved every day on the little things to help our bodies stay healthy and to be physical players. For me, I want to improve on my breakaway ability, getting through the line of scrimmage and creating more bigger plays for the offense.”
With more than 1,000 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns, Scott played a significant role in Indiana’s 7-3 start to the 2019 season. But he didn’t get to see it all the way through. He was injured during the week 11 loss to Michigan and did not return for the final two contests.
Part of the Scott’s evolution during his sophomore season was his role in the passing attack. The New York native caught 26 passes for 211 yards as the bruising back became a weapon both on the ground and through the air.
A 6-foot-2 and 231 pounds, Scott is first a foremost a power running back. That style led him to a better than 5.5 yards per carry average over his last six games of 2019, and already 1,982 yards rushing for his IU career. That two year total puts Scott ahead of where IU all-time rushing yardage leader Anthony Thompson was at this stage of his career.
SPEGAL OPENING EYES
New Palestine, Ind. product Charlie Spegal had one of the most prolific high school careers for a running back, ever.
After playing two seasons at Delta and two at New Palestine, Spegal is in a select group of players nationally with over 10,000 rushing yards and over 1,000 career points for a high school career.
According to 247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong, Spegal is one of just five high school players in the country to ever hit both of those marks. One of the others was Hart, who recruited Spegal to the Hoosiers as a preferred walk-on.
Although high school numbers don’t always translate, it isn’t a significant surprise that the 2019 Indiana Mr. Football is already making a splash in Bloomington.
Hart noted that the 5-foot-10 and 218 pound Spegal “ran some guys over” during the team scrimmage at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
“He’s a great kid,” Hart said. “He’s like any other freshman, he’s learning every day.”
Count Scott as impressed as well.
“Charlie, that’s my guy. Definitely a good player, runs hard, knows how to make people miss.” Scott said.
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