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BLOOMINGTON -- Nick Stoner doesn't know the number. Does that surprise you? Indiana's senior wide receiver's arms are nearly covered with tattoos -- “nearly” being the key word -- and the number is as mysterious as a Gary Busey speech.
“I couldn't tell you,” Stoner says. “It's like 11 or 12.”
Stoner does know that tattoo ink goes “five skin layers deep,” which means a normal scrape won't ruin any of the art, which is very important when you've made such a commitment to it. He also knows that his tattoo work -- the newest are a lion and a lamb -- is incomplete.
“I have more planned. I'm not sure of the specifics, but I want to fill out my arms. They're kind of spotty right now.”
“Spotty” is a matter of perspective, but include this fact: Stoner insists he has no Mike Tyson urge to tattoo his face.
“But I can't be too sure,” he says with a smile. “I never thought I'd get full sleeves (arms nearly fully tattooed) and it was like, I woke up and had them.”
Now Stoner wakes up with a huge receiving opportunity. He has spent three years as an understudy for the likes of Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes. They are gone to the NFL, and now Stoner joins fellow veterans Shane Wynn and Isaiah Roundtree in a receiving corps transition. They are the leaders in a group that will rely heavily on freshmen Dominique Booth, Simmie Cobbs, Coray Keel, J-Shun Harris and former Homestead standout Isaac Griffith.
“For Nick, No. 1 we're looking for leadership,” offensive coordinator/receivers coach Kevin Johns says. “The kid has been playing for a long time. He's done a great job of putting on some muscle and weight. We're still trying to get him to make every big-time catch and big-time route on third down. To come through for us.
“He has a great hands. He catches the ball. I'm talking about a big third-down-and-man-coverage conversion. Making 100 percent of those.”
Wynn is IU's top receiver. Last year he caught 46 passes for 633 yards and 11 touchdowns. Roundtree was way back with 14 catches for 136 yards and a TD. Stoner only had 12 catches, but averaged a team-leading 18.8 yards.
That showcases the big-play speed that could make him a difference maker. It certainly did last spring, when he used it to run for help when Griffith nearly drowned in Florida.
“This is the opportunity to show the speed God has given me,” he says. “Go out there and run as fast as I can, 100 percent of the time.”
This is important because the 6-1, 190-pound Stoner will never overpower defensive backs.
“I have to use my speed all the time because I'm not that big. I like to get a lot of separation from people. I focus on making my routes maybe sharper than they had been.”
Stoner was once a one-man track team as a senior at Center Grove High School, winning the Indiana state 100- and 200-meter dashes, plus being a member of the winning 400-meter relay, as Center Grove won the team championship.
As an IU freshman he earned All-America track honors as part of the Hoosiers' eighth-place 1,600-meter relay team, and All-Big Ten honors as part of the 400 relay team. As as a sophomore he placed eighth in the conference indoor 60-yard dash (6.86 seconds). He didn't run track last season to concentrate on football, in particular gaining size and strength. He's gained 10 pounds from last year.
“I figured I'd play more (in football) this season, and track took weight off. I had to run the 400 a lot. You can't be big and run the 400, but it helps with speed and endurance. There are pros and cons to playing both sports.”
Stone isn't sure he'll run track again. He plans to attend seminary school to focus on sports ministry, perhaps as a youth pastor.
“Playing two sports in college, I can relate to things kids are going through. But I also want to give all I can give to this school. Maybe I'll stay for a fifth year and run track.”
First, though, there's a breakthrough football season to achieve.
“He's running great routes and making good, competitive catches,” quarterback Nate Sudfeld says. “I'm excited to see what he's going to do.”