|Indiana has 1st practice since Hoeppner's death|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 06 August 2007 21:25|
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) -The Indiana Hoosiers had their message on the back of their crimson helmets: ``Don't Quit 13'' read the decal.|
It was a reminder of the season-long motivation for a team that wants to honor its late coach, Terry Hoeppner, by achieving his goals of getting the Hoosiers to a bowl game for the first time since 1993 and playing 13 games.
For the first time since Hoeppner died from complications of a brain tumor in June, the Hoosiers practiced Monday in front of coaches and a larger-than-usual media contingent wondering how the players will respond to the loss of their leader.
M has its 12th man and we've got ours today,'' said director of football operations Harold Mauro, pointing to the two words printed on the back of the coaching staff's new T-shirts.
``Don't Quit'' was Hoeppner's favorite poem, a message he often used to inspire the Hoosiers.
So how different will things be in the post-Hoeppner era? That's the big question in Bloomington.
Quarterback Kellen Lewis acknowledged the offense wasn't as sharp or as spirited as he would've liked.
Bill Lynch, Hoeppner's top assistant during his two years as coach and the head man this season, chalked the troubles up to first day jitters. Lewis thought it had more to do with the whirlwind of emotions.
``I think it was a little weird today,'' he said. ``The defense came with a lot of heart, and the offense really didn't. I can't really compare coaches that way, but I think coach Hoeppner probably would have been a little more fired up about it, like an animal coming out of the ground.''
Lynch did what he could to keep things in sync. Players followed virtually the same routine - stretching, working in position groups, throwing and catching - as Hoeppner had scripted. From the spirited start to the timed quarters and the final burst of calisthenics, Hoeppner's imprint was everywhere.
Even Hoeppner's wife, Jane, their daughter, Allison, and two of the Hoeppner grandchildren took their usual sideline spots near midfield.
Lynch, the Hoosiers' fifth coach since 1996, tried to keep things as routine as possible.
For the players, it was yet another emotional day in a summer full of them.
``Walking in and seeing coach Hep's wife and daughter here were constant reminders,'' offensive lineman Charlie Emerson said. ``But it's nice to be playing football again.''
While the players had practiced many times before without Hoeppner - he took medical leaves in December 2005, September 2006 and March 2007 - this practice had a decidedly different atmosphere.
At one point, early in practice, kicker Austin Starr strolled over to the sideline, spoke with Hoeppner's wife and daughter and then started tossing a foam football with Allison Balcam's oldest son, Quinn.
Another time, when the team took a water break, other players spent time speaking to Hoeppner's wife.
``We had a few conversations with her, passing along our condolences again, so, yeah, we were aware she was there,'' cornerback Tracy Porter said. ``It was good to know they're still supporting this football team.''
Lynch, who has 14 seasons of head coaching experience, recalled how Hoeppner often said the start of fall practice was one of his favorite days of the year and said Indiana's players and coaches were still dealing with Hoeppner's death.
``I'm sure it will be (a learning process), but again we think continuity in the program is so important,'' Lynch said. ``These guys have been through a lot in the last year, but at least they're back out here at practice now.''
And the players couldn't have asked for more than that.
``Seeing what he's done for the program, the least we can do is come out here and work hard,'' Porter said.
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