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BLOOMINGTON -- For now, they have no public Indiana football voice. Fort Wayne products Donovan Clark and Isaac Griffith are as a silent as mimes per coach Kevin Wilson's freshmen-only-talk-after-they-play instructions.
Clark is poised to crack the cornerback rotation as a true freshman after a standout career at South Side. Griffith, a redshirt freshman who once starred at Homestead, is part of a talented receiver group.
As the Hoosiers begin zeroing in on their Aug. 30 season opener against Indiana State, both are looking more and more like early contributors.
To break the silence, we offer offensive coordinator/receivers coach Kevin Johns, cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby, defensive coordinator Brian Knorr, Wilson and veteran cornerback (and former Bishop Luers standout) Kenny Mullen.
First, a refresher on Griffith, who did speak after nearly drowning during a spring break accident in Florida last March. He briefly was put in an induced coma, then overcame pneumonia before returning to full-bore workouts over the summer.
Griffith set Homestead records for career receptions (119), yards (2,453) and touchdowns (37). He also has the school record for longest punt return for a touchdown, at 80 yards.
IU returns three veteran receivers in Shane Wynn, Nick Stoner and Isaiah Roundtree. There's plenty of young talent behind them. Johns said he could rotate eight or more receivers depending on production. Griffith is in the mix.
“Isaac has been good,” Johns said. “Toward the end of the summer, he was making every (running) time. He went through some tough workouts and did just fine. From a conditioning standpoint, I feel like he's back 100 percent. He's one of those 11 guys competing for playing time. I have not seen anything different today than where he was before his accident.”
Clark was a two-way standout at South Side. As a senior he rushed for 744 yards and seven touchdowns, threw a touchdown pass, caught nine passes, returned seven kickoffs. As a defensive back he totaled 25 tackles and two interceptions.
He also played basketball and baseball.
Clark has positioned himself as the No. 4 cornerback behind Tim Bennett, Michael Hunter and Mullen.
“Donovan is a guy who has the mental capacity to play early,” Shelby said. “He knows the scheme. He's very athletic. He's a competitive young guy. He comes from a great program in Fort Wayne. I'm excited in how he can help us out in special teams and give Kenny and Tim and Michael a break during the game.
“He has to keep pushing. Hopefully he doesn't hit that freshman wall and keeps doing the little things.”
How hard is it for a true freshmen cornerback to get significant playing time?
“It's the speed of the game,” Shelby said. “So many times they come here having been one of the top players at their high school, and they don't realize everybody is a 3- to 4-star player. You go against guys who look like Shane Wynn (IU's All-Big Ten receiver).
“At the end of the day, it's a team full of competitive guys. Our recruiting has gotten better, so our athleticism has gotten better. So it's the speed of the game, the concepts, the playbook, the details. Every day there is a new concept, a new scheme going in. You have to study. Those are the little things that can push a freshman if he's doing well, or, show that he needs to redshirt.”
Knorr has no problem playing Clark, or any freshman, if they're ready.
“We have a handful of freshmen we hope will play a role this year,” Knorr said, mentioning linebackers Tegray Scales and Robert McCray along with Clark. “We anticipate them playing a role. Right now, they're just trying to survive a little. We have push them a little bit, get them battle tested in practice before we put them in a game.”
Added Wilson: “Donovan Clark has been as impressive at corner as some of our second and third-year guys. He's very physical. He's busting it.”
Mullen said he's not surprised that Clark has made a quick camp impact.
“I watched him grow up. I have a close relationship with him and his family. To watch him develop into the player he is today is tremendous. He's a young guy who has come a long way. He continues to learn and get better. He has a bright future.”
Mullen was part of the recruiting effort that got Clark to Bloomington.
“I wouldn't say I helped encourage him to come,” Mullen said, “but I told him what the program was about and what we're trying to take advantage of here. He was on board. He wanted to be a part of it.
“I'm being a mentor to him, and a lot of young guys. Get them on the right path and take the right steps to get this team in the right direction, with is a bowl season. Get this defense to where it should be.”
As far as Mullen's status as the No. 3 cornerback, Shelby said, “He needs to take the role of making plays when they're there. He's a smart guy. He has great athletic ability. He's very put together. His deal is making competitive plays when the ball is in the air. He's done a great job this camp. He'll contribute. Expect to see him on game day.”
Also, Wilson suspended receiver Caleb Cornett indefinitely after the redshirt sophomore was arrested for getting into a fight early Wednesday morning. No charges are likely to be filed by the Monroe County prosecutor.
Cornett played in 11 games last season, mostly on special teams. He didn't catch a pass or make a tackle.
Wilson issued a statement about Cornett's status:
“We are aware of Caleb's situation and take this matter very seriously. At this time, Caleb is suspended from all team activities. Once we gather all of the facts and information, we will move forward accordingly.”