|As practice begins, Indiana players cope with Hoeppner's death|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 05 August 2007 10:11|
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) -Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis just wanted to be a regular college kid this summer - go to the beach, hang out with friends.|
Instead, there were funerals.
First, Hoosiers coach Terry Hoeppner died at 59 on June 19 from complications of a brain tumor. Days later, J.D. Hall, Lewis' high school coach in Florida, died of a heart attack at 35.
``I was really in a state of depression,'' Lewis said. ``I was less patient, saying things to my mom that I had never said to her. I had to apologize to her three or four times a week, and I was snapping at friends. I'm just not like that normally.''
The Hoosiers spent spring practice dodging questions about Hoeppner's illness - the usual weightlifting and running were a relief. In mid-June they attended Hoeppner's memorial service. Now another round of questioning awaits, with preseason practice opening Monday.
Can they reach a bowl game? Will they live by the inspirational words of Hoeppner's favorite poem, ``Don't Quit''? Will Hoeppner's wife, Jane, play a prominent role in the program? And, of course, how will they overcome the loss of their leader?
Coach Bill Lynch acknowledged in June this may be the most difficult part of the grieving process for the players because most have never dealt in public with such an experience. The bigger concern may be the team's emotional state.
Athletic department officials have offered counseling to players although a university official said he was unaware how many actually took advantage of the opportunity. Five players told The Associated Press they had not sought counseling.
Athletic director Rick Greenspan hopes it wasn't because they were trying to uphold the rough-and-tough image that define football players.
``I think most young people have this sort of Superman belief, that they're sort of invincible and that's great,'' Greenspan said. ``But grieving and death are issues everybody deals with differently, and I've found over the years that there's not a perfect answer.''
Greenspan has also asked coaches and administrators to make more frequent trips to the football offices and hopes renovations at Memorial Stadium and inside the locker room illustrate campus support for the team.
Receiver James Hardy has put Hoeppner's picture in his locker, spoken with Hoeppner's wife and relied on his religious faith.
``I try to stay busy when I'm free because otherwise you think about it all the time,'' Hardy said. ``I've talked with Jane about her experiences and what we're both going through. It's real painful.''
For Lewis, the mourning has been even tougher. Initially, he was in such denial he couldn't even tell his parents Hoeppner died. He left that task to assistant coach Matt Canada. Then, while in Bloomington for Hoeppner's services, he got the call about his high school coach.
``Right after coach Hep's funeral, I wanted to just go home and get away from it for a little while and then I was right back in the same situation,'' he said.
A call from Hardy changed everything. He invited Lewis to join him at Disney World, and Lewis now credits that trip for helping him through the worst of it.
Some believe Hoeppner's death has brought the team closer. Lewis and Hardy now have a much stronger bond than they did a year ago when Lewis started the season as the No. 3 quarterback.
But that doesn't always work.
A year ago, Northwestern coach Randy Walker, Hoeppner's predecessor at Miami (Ohio), died of a heart attack in July. The Wildcats promised an inspirational season but the result was a 4-8 record.
Indiana expects to do better than that and hopes to honor the coach that instilled confidence and excitement into a program that lacked both for most of the last decade.
It won't be easy.
``I think it's still tough to accept for a bunch of guys,'' offensive lineman Charlie Emerson said. ``Not seeing him go into that office, not talking to him, it's just tough.''
Especially for Lewis, who got a double dose of life's toughest lessons.
``I'm good now; I'm ready to go and I feel a lot better,'' Lewis said. ``I just want to play the way coach Hep wanted us to play.''
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