BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Last football season, Morris native Danny Friend spent most of his time watching the Indiana University offense and getting time on the field with the special teams.
Friend, a 6-foot-5-inch, 260-pound wonder of an athlete, had to take time to adjust to the size and speed of players in the Big Ten after a stellar career at tight end and defensive end for the Redskins. At Indiana, they will use him as a tight end, and he will probably get quite a bit of time this year. Ted Bolser was the primary tight end for the Hoosiers last season and had 35 of the 36 pass receptions by the position, but he has since graduated.
"They have been mixing things up as far as who is working with the ones and twos," Friend said Friday after the Hoosiers practiced in full pads for the first time this season. "I have been in that group of guys, so that feels pretty good.
"It was definitely an adjustment to the size and speed of the game last year. But I have put on about 10 pounds since then and I haven't lost any speed. Things seem to have slowed down on the field for me and I am getting more and more used to it."
The Hoosiers, under coach Kevin Wilson, might just be one of the surprise teams in the Big Ten this year. Friend, who had 15 receptions for 283 yards and four touchdowns as a senior helping the Redskins reach the state title game in 2012, hopes to play a part in that. Indiana went 5-7 last year, including close losses of 41-35 to Navy and 42-39 to Minnesota. The Hoosiers averaged 38.4 points a game, and if they can turn those tough defeats into victories this year, they might be invited to a bowl this year.
"I think we can sneak up on some people this year," Friend said. "Our offense will definitely be a strength. Our O-line is very good, and we have a good quarterback in Nate Sudfeld and a good running back with Tevin Coleman. Our defense is young, but they are playing with a lot of energy, so we might be one of those surprise teams this year."
The Hoosiers plan on using the Oregon-Auburn type of spread offense, built on maintaining the option to either run or pass, depending on how the defense reacts. The tight end has to be one of the more versatile players in the scheme, as he may be called upon to stay in and block or split the seam in the middle of the defense on any given play. It's a challenge that Friend relishes, along with returning to his special teams duties of last season.
"I have to be able to do both," he said about blocking and receiving. "Sometimes they split us out and we have to block on bubble screens for receivers, or they will audible from there and have us go up a seam.
"I also think I will play on some special teams again. I hope so, anyway, because those are always fun to do. You just get to run down the field as fast as you can and hit somebody. That's always fun."
Even though Friday was the fist day of practicing in full pads, Friend was more than pleased to get back in full swing. When he's not practicing, he spends his time majoring in exercise science and plans to finish his degree in four years.
"The plan is to finish in four years," he said about his studies. "It's tough because I can't take as many classes in the fall, but I take one or two in the summer to make up for it.
"I am just excited to get back here with my teammates and get back to playing," Friend said. "It was nice to get the full set of pads on. That really makes it feel like it's football season."
And, with any luck, a football season that sees him in the starting lineup and leading Indiana to a surprise bowl bid.