BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Devine Redding spent his first two seasons at Indiana serving as the apprentice to two future NFL running backs.
This year, the 5-foot-10 junior is putting those lessons to work.
In Thursday night’s season-opening win at Florida International, Redding ran 22 times for 135 yards despite sharing the carries with five other backs on a warm, muggy Miami night. He expected nothing less.
“I’ve worked on my pass protection, my foot explosion, all that stuff,” Redding said. “I’ve worked on my quick-twitch muscles and moving faster so I can take a hit or make a hit. I like to lower my shoulder when I’ve got to.”
Redding certainly has the potential to thrive in this starring role.
The up-tempo style that coach Kevin Wilson prefers and Indiana’s propensity for scoring points often gives the perception that the Hoosiers throw the ball all around the field. But it’s the ground game that has become the cornerstone to their success.
Two years ago, the big, speedy Tevin Coleman ran around opposing defenses for a school record 2,036 yards despite playing with a broken bone in his right foot — an injury not disclosed until after Coleman announced he would enter the NFL draft following his junior season.
Last season, Jordan Howard, Coleman’s hand-picked replacement, brought his 1,000-yard pedigree to Bloomington after UAB decided to close down its football program. Howard didn’t disappoint, using his physical style to run over opponents for 1,213 yards in nine games while missing three and losing significant playing time in three others because of injuries.
As Coleman and Howard made headlines, Redding kept working in the background, waiting for his chance.
So when the moment arrived, Redding delivered. He rushed for 130 yards in a road win over Maryland and 144 yards and a touchdown in a bowl-clinching win at Purdue before a 227-yard, one TD day in an overtime loss to Duke in the Pinstripe Bowl.
He finished the season with 1,012 yards, nine TDs and the clear-cut starter role entering 2016.
But if two seasons as a backup taught Redding anything, it was that he had to be strong enough to withstand the punishment of the Big Ten.
So he added five pounds, and to the delight of Wilson, the 208-pound Redding looks just as quick now.
“(It was) good and at the same time, I didn’t expect him to have that much,” Wilson said Thursday after rotating backs to keep everyone fresh. “I was looking more at yards per carry and touchdowns and turnovers.”
The impressive numbers demonstrate just how good Redding can be.
He heads into Saturday’s home opener against Ball State with four straight 100-yard games and 636 yards and a 6.2 average in his last four starts.
At this rate, Redding will easily become Indiana’s first back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher since Vaughn Dunbar in 1990 and 1991 and only the fourth in school history. Anthony Thompson did it three times from 1987-89 and Courtney Snyder achieved the feat in 1974-75.
But first, he must take better care of the ball. After losing a fumble Thursday and putting the ball on the ground again in practice, Wilson told reporters Monday that if he doesn’t correct the problem, Redding could get benched because the competition is so good.
Regardless, new starting quarterback Richard Lagow plans to run the ball a lot.
“It makes my job a lot easier when I can hand the ball off to them and can have them squirt it out for a consistent five, six, whatever they do,” Lagow said. “It’s priceless.”
Redding intends to keep it that way.
With his smallish frame, quick cuts and flashy runs, Redding insists he can handle 25 or more carries per game, just like Coleman and Howard, and still remain healthy.
And after all that time learning the ropes, Redding can’t wait to prove it.
“I want the ball as much as my body can take it,” he said. “I think I got better (last year) as the games went on and as the season went on, and that’s what I’m going to try to do that this season.”
NOTE: Wilson said tight end Jordan Fuchs will need surgery to repair a dislocated ankle. Wilson did not say how much time Fuchs is expected to miss.