Give them credit.
No one that I’ve spoken to in the current Indiana football locker room liked the decision made last August by the Athletic Department to follow IU’s Brand and Uniform Guidelines and remove the player’s names from the back of their jerseys.
But no one said a word either.
The fans? They certainly spoke up.
And former players? They didn’t hold back either. Former cornerback Rashard Fant, who was just a year removed from the program perhaps best represented the voice of the players on the 2018 roster.
“I will just say that for kids coming to college, one of the greatest feelings is being able to represent your family out on that field along with your team. Especially for guys who are first generation college students or first to play a college sport in their family,” Fant said last year via his Twitter account.
It just simply wasn’t a popular decision — and it was reversed in less than a year.
But the current players bit their tongues at the time. And that’s worth noting too. Taking a guy’s name off his jersey could almost feel personal, but the players had enough respect for their coaches and a desire to maintain togetherness right before the start of a season. So they kept their concerns “in house.”
“We wanted it back when they took it,” wide receiver Whop Philyor said. “We weren’t vocal about it because we didn’t want to start any problems or anything, so we kept it to a level of just the players.”
Obviously a big “us vs. them” controversy wasn’t going to be good for anyone, especially not in late August, and the players had enough respect for their head coach to not let that happen.
“We trust Coach Allen in every decision he makes, so we don’t second guess him,” safety Bryant Fitzgerald told us, while also acknowledging that the issue was probably a bit overblown in the overall scheme of things last year.
And while unpopular, the players also understood the overarching sentiment behind the decision.
“I understand where they are coming from, playing for the team first,” cornerback Reese Taylor said.
It wasn’t something so combustible that it permeated out to the field.
“A lot of people were kind of bummed out but we didn’t let it effect us, we are still here to play football,” running back Stevie Scott said.
Of course since there was a near consensus opposition in 2018, there is also near consensus enthusiasm and support for changing things back in 2019.
We spoke with several players yesterday about what having their names back on their jerseys means to them and we have summarized those thoughts below.
It is worth noting too that many of their remarks continued to emphasize the message of team first that was at the heart of the 2018 decision.
But it is clear that the players believe that a team first mentality can still be accomplished while also having their names on their jerseys.
Mike Penix, Quarterback
“The whole team loves it. Everybody is playing for their family, but at the end of the day we are all playing together for the Indiana Hoosiers.”
Whop Philyor, Wide Receiver
“It means a lot to me because they don’t really know our faces. I just think it’s a big thing for us. We’re going to play for the team on the front but we also play for the people that got us here”
Stevie Scott, Running Back
“Love it. It looks way better. We feel better. It’s a boost of confidence for us. Playing for that last name on the back of your jersey, and the name on the front, means a lot.”
Marcelino Ball, Husky
“It obviously feels good. Last year it helped just to play and you don’t have to worry about nothing. But it is good for when my family comes.”
Bryant Fitzgerald, Safety
“It feels good again. Now you can finally point to the back of your jersey if you make a play. Having the name on the back of your jersey is huge for some guys that get here and want to represent their family.”
Reese Taylor, Cornerback
“I love it. I’m glad we’ve got the names back. We’re playing for our family now too.”
More to Taylor’s point of playing for his family, there is a practical consideration as well.
Many fans expressed concerns about not knowing who the players were without names on the jerseys, especially with multiple players wearing the same numbers.
That challenge even extends to the player’s families.
Ball is replacing his familiar No. 42 with No. 9 this year. Scott is changing from No. 21 to No. 8.
Without his name on the back, Ball might be confused for fellow No. 9 Penix or new No. 42 D.K. Bonhomme.
While they will surely be pulling for Penix and Bonhomme too, Ball’s family will have no doubt where to direct their attention.
“For me with a number change, it will help my Mom find me,” Ball said with a big smile on his face.
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