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Success has led to higher level recruits, but IU football still seeks must have traits to protect culture

When running back Gi’Bran Payne verbally committed on Monday he became the fourth 4-star recruit in Indiana’s class of 2022.  That is significant, because according to the 247Sports Composite, IU has only landed 13 additional 4-stars in the last 22 years. 11 of Indiana’s 17 total 4-stars since 2000 have or will come to Bloomington in the classes of 2019 through 2023, signaling a major shift in the caliber of prospects signing up to play for the Hoosiers.

It is easy to see what has changed.  Indiana has started winning at a level not seen in more than 30 years.

But there is more to it.  The culture that is fueling Indiana success, and notably, the way they celebrate that success, has been noticed by players who would not have considered IU as an option until recently.

Of course the man at the center of that culture, and the resulting success and celebrations, is head coach Tom Allen.  And he has noticed doors opening on the recruiting trail recently that were previously deadbolted shut.

“There has been a definite shift in regards to maybe the pool of guys that are receptive and that’s been exciting,” Allen said at the Big Ten’s media day last week.  “I would say we expected that.  I would have been disappointed if that didn’t happen based on our last two seasons.  I think also just the culture that I think has been shown to the country via social media, I’ve had a lot of comments from parents and recruits about the videos that they saw and how that drew them to want to come and check it out and see if it was really what it appeared to be.”

The culture recruits see has been built by mostly unheralded players on a foundation of an underdog status.  Allen selects one word to guide his team each year, and each time there is a trace of the long suffering IU program looking to overcome the odds.  Whether that one word is breakthrough, finish, grit, relentless or this season’s chase, each time Allen seems to want remind his players that they are being doubted and they must be extraordinary to prove folks wrong.

Recruiting had already improved at IU before the 2022 class under Allen and his former boss Kevin Wilson, but he has never been better than eighth in the Big Ten class rankings or 36th nationally.

That all appears to be on track to change.  Allen has currently assembled a 2022 class ranked No. 20 nationally and No. 5 in the Big Ten.  After compiling a 14-7 record over the last two seasons with two January bowl game appearances, Allen is not only seeing new doors open, he is busting through the threshold, breaking down walls, and closing deals.

There is simply no doubt that a higher level of talent has been showing up in Bloomington in recent years, and the best it seems is yet to come.

But that also raises a question.  How can Allen ensure that as the talent level rises in the Indiana program, his culture and message still resonate with those higher caliber players?  Whatever the ranking or number of stars attached to a recruit, Allen believes he has identified the three key attributes that will keep his culture thriving.

And they probably aren’t what you would think.

“To me, number one, is young men that care about school,” Allen said.  “I’m not talking about straight As, but education is important to them.  If it’s important to them and their families in high school, it’ll be important to them when they’re with us, and they’ll want to go to class, and they’ll understand the importance of going to academic appointments, whether it’s tutors, academic support, or whatever it happens to be, and we’re not having to drag them to class.

“Another one is, understanding, and wanting to be developed as a man,” he continued.

“You spend time with them, you ask lots of questions.  And if you ask the right questions, eventually you are going to find out if that’s important to them and their family.  Here’s why that’s important.  If I’m going to spend a lot of our time talking about how we can develop you as a man and you could care less, no one is ever going to say that they don’t care about that, but by your response and by the way you interact right now in the recruiting process, I’ll be able to tell if that’s important to you or not.  And if that’s not important to you, half of what I say, you won’t even be listening.”

Allen described his three must-have traits as non-negotiables for any recruit to get a committable offer from IU, and thus far, none of them have anything to do with football.

Of course a prospect has to be good at football, that is a given.

But Allen is looking for more than just talent when it comes to stepping onto the field.

“The last thing is, I want guys that love football,” Allen said.  “If they don’t love football, then that’s one we’ve got to figure out now because it’s way too hard.  If you don’t love football, playing Big Ten football and going to class and all that responsibility you have, you’re probably not going to make it, because you have to love the process of what we’re going to ask you to do.”

In many ways Allen is looking for a roster full of players who are like him.  After 30 years as a coach, he knows what kind of players are going to respond to his passionate, energetic, hard-working style.

Allen’s one word this year is chase, and no matter the talent level, if he has stayed true to his non-negotiables he believes he will have recruited an army at his back ready to do just that.

“I’ve said it from the very beginning, maybe the opening press conference when I was hired as the head coach,” Allen said.  “I can do a lot of things, I can motivate, and I want to drive you to greatness, but I cannot pull you.”

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