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BLOOMINGTON -- Ted Bolser looms large at Memorial Stadium. This comes naturally to a guy who stands 6-6 and weighs 247 pounds.
Of course, Indiana doesn't need Bolser to loom, but to dominate. Given that the senior tight end is on the John Mackey Award list, given that he's the third tight end in school history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards and already owns the school record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end, elite is a reasonable goal.
And yet, ask him his keys to a successful season and you get … well … this:
“I have to play. Not worry about things.”
He rocks back and forth as he talk, as if two-plus hours of just completed practice haven't taxed his energy levels.
"Not worry about things."
Worry is part of the Bolser package. He must play to his ability and his coaches' demands. He must run good routes, read defenses, catch balls, block and thrive on special teams.
And then he must set a winning tone.
“I have to be mentally right, especially now as a senior,” he says. “I've got to help lead these guys. Show them how it's done. If they see me slack off, they'll do it. Mentally getting myself ready.”
A week before Indiana opens its season against Indiana State, it's so far, so good.
“He's playing well and hard,” coach Kevin Wilson says. “He's doing well in the kicking game. He's impressive on punt and kick cover. He's blocking well. It's just being a complete player.”
Bolser seemed well on his way after a freshman season with 27 catches for 407 yards and five touchdowns. But that was under former coach Bill Lynch. When Wilson and his staff arrived with an uptempo offense and more demanding ways, Bolser struggled. As a sophomore he slumped to 14 catches for 165 yards and a TD. But he adjusted and last year he came up big with 41 catches for 445 yards and three touchdowns.
More and more, especially in the NFL, tight ends thrive in the passing game. If they're big and fast and skilled enough, they can create major matchup problems.
“You've got to be able to run fast and have good route-running,” he says. “You need crisp routes, breaking out of them. You have to catch the ball. All our tight ends can do that. We're expecting huge things from our tight ends, and everywhere else.”
IU's tight ends also include sophomore Anthony Corsaro (a walk-on who just earned a scholarship) and freshman Danny Friend. All three are impact players, offensive coordinator Seth Littrell says.
“For a tight end to be a factor in the passing game, he has to have athletic ability to get out there and play in space like a receiver does,” Littrell says. “It's not the easiest thing to find a guy who's good at everything.
“Usually guys come in out of high school as a blocking tight end or a big receiver who hasn't put his hand in the ground and blocked much. So we have to teach one or the other.
“Our guys have to do both and be good at both. It's not an easy transition for a tight end. It takes some time, some a bit longer than others, depending on what your skill set was in high school.”
Wilson is optimistic about IU's tight end skill set.
“Corsaro catches it well. He blocks. Danny Friend is maybe the best of all three. He isn't ready yet, but he's going to be a what good tight ends look like. He can block, catch and run.”
The 6-5, 250-pound Friend was a three-sport athlete at Morris Community High School in Illinois, also competing in track and basketball. He twice made the all-state academic team.
“I thought he might grow into an offensive lineman,” Wilson said. “I think he'll be a big upper level tight end in this league. He gives us a more physical presence.”
Adds Bolser: “He's really stepped up. He's doing things I couldn't do as a freshman. He came in with a massive body. He's picking up the offense a lot faster than the other freshman. We're expecting a lot out of him.”
That's true of all the tight ends.
“They've had a really good camp,” Littrell says. “Right now we're just cleaning up some stuff. We're focusing on our plays, getting more geared up for the first game, make sure we're focused on what we have to do, what our job is.”
That job boils down to one thing -- win.
“As a team we have to have confidence,” Bolser says. “I know for a fact we won't be lacking that. We have a lot of experience at wide receiver. Our defense is doing really well. We have three great quarterbacks who are really confident and pushing for the starting spot. Just have confidence to know we're better than the people we're playing against.”