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Slimmer and more experienced Donaven McCulley could be a fixture in IU’s offense

Donaven McCulley has looked different this spring.

After spending the last year switching from quarterback to wide receiver and getting used to playing a new position, he’s a lot more comfortable now.

But even physically, McCulley is different. The junior spent the offseason slimming down, wanting to get quicker. He lost around eight pounds, and went from 10 percent body fat to around seven or eight percent.

The Indianapolis native chalked up the weight loss to an improved diet.

“Just talked to coach (Aaron) Wellman and the staff, and our nutritionist, Isaac (Hicks III), just making sure I’m eating the right things,” McCulley said. “I was kind of a big sweets guy. I had to cut out a little bit of that. And then just eating chicken and rice, that’s a big thing for me.”

McCulley clarified that the sweets he cut out was primarily candy — Skittles, in particular. But he said it wasn’t hard for him.

And it’s made a difference for him on the field. He said he’s felt a little quicker on the field, and it’s helped him get in and out of breaks.

Those sorts of cuts have been one of McCulley’s biggest focuses this spring.

“Getting out of my breaks is really something that’s big for me,” McCulley said. “Switching positions, you’re not used to that. Just working on that, getting out of breaks and everything, staying flexible.”

McCulley showed real potential last season, though his playing time was limited amongst a crowded receiver room and with limited experience compared to teammates. But his tall, athletic frame proved useful in his opportunities. He caught 16 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.

The receiver room saw a lot of turnover from 2022 to 2023, though, and the Hoosiers could be relying more heavily on McCulley. He’s one of just three receivers on IU’s roster who caught pass for the team last year, along with Andison Coby and Cam Camper, who’s still working his way back from his torn ACL. Of course, younger players like Kamryn Perry or Omar Cooper Jr. could play bigger roles this year, and transfers E.J. Williams and Dequece Carter could contribute as well.

But the opportunities will be there for McCulley to be a real fixture in Indiana’s offense.

In late March, IU head coach Tom Allen said he’s liked what he’s seen from McCulley this spring.

“Every day he’s made plays. That’s what I expect,” Allen said. “We’ve had some really good heart-to-hearts about it. He knows where he wants to be and where I believe he can be. It’s just him continuing the growth at that position and learning it, and being able to find a way to get open and make plays, and go score the football.”

Tucker building rapport

This spring has been the first time these IU receivers have worked with their new position coach, Anthony Tucker.

The Hoosiers brought Tucker in from Utah State in February after Adam Henry left to return to the NFL with the Buffalo Bills. Tucker worked with IU offensive coordinator Walt Bell at Arkansas State in 2014-15 and at Maryland in 2016.

The players have clearly taken to working with him. McCulley lit up when he was asked about Tucker. The junior said Tucker was quieter when they started working together, but he’s become more vocal, both on the field and in the meeting room. They all joke around with each other and share laughs, and the group has become closer through it.

But Tucker is pushing his players on the field.

“He’s going to make sure you get everything right. He’s going to make sure you do everything correctly. He’s going to coach you extremely hard,” McCulley said. “He’s not going to let you be lazy or low, none of that. I like coach Tucker. He pushes you to the max.”

Quarterback battle ongoing

While McCulley will clearly have passes coming his way this fall, it’s unclear who will be throwing them.

Indiana’s starting quarterback job remains up for grabs, as Tom Allen said last week. Redshirt freshmen Tayven Jackson and Brendan Sorsby have spent the spring competing for the job.

McCulley said both players have done well and continue progressing every day. He spoke a bit more in-depth about Jackson and said they’ve put in time getting acclimated with each other since Jackson arrived from Tennessee.

“Tayven’s really good. He has a great ball, really is catchable,” McCulley said. “After practice and stuff like that, we really work like all routes. Before spring started, we were working on routes, just catching, and getting our chemistry together. I have really good chemistry with Tavyen.”