BORDEN, Ind. — On Wednesday evening, hundreds of Indiana fans united as one at Huber's Orchard to listen to Indiana head football coach Tom Allen and head basketball coach Mike Woodson preview their upcoming seasons as part of the 'On the Road With the Hoosiers' tour.
The room was packed full with a sea of cream and crimson fans elbow to elbow and some back to back.
After dinner, thousands of dollars were donated through a live auction where the most unique item was certainly an autographed tee-shirt signed by Indiana cheerleader Cassidy Cerny who saved the ball from behind the backboard in Indiana's NCAA Tournament game against St. Mary's.
Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Scott Dolson said he believes this is Indiana's 30th Huber's Orchard event making this year extra special because of the milestone, but also because it's been two years since the last one took place due to COVID-19.
Allen later took the stand always eager to address a group of Hoosier fans. He was willing to break down the best seasons of Indiana football like the 2020 6-2 season and the not-so-great ones like last season's 2-10 record.
"This past season was a challenge," Allen said. "It was difficult. It was tough. It was brutal. It wasn't what any of us expected."
Watered down with injuries, it wasn't easy to find momentum. Allen said he's always asked what he learned from that trial, and the answer is simple; 'don't lose sight of who you are'.
"How do you respond when things don't go your way?" Allen asked the crowd.
Allen used this personal lesson to teach his team that life is hard and unfair at times, but it's how you react to the turmoil that determines character and resiliency.
"Our one word for 2022 is 'build,'" Allen said.
Each year, Allen assigns a word to the team making it the theme for the whole season even going as far as hunting down and reading a book with the same theme that can help grow the team.
"We're trying to form a team that plays as one," Allen said. "LEO is for life. It's not just on Saturdays."
Allen said the goal is to win the Big Ten, bottom line, period. That goal has never changed and never will. Allen believes he has the tools to help his team get there.
"This year everybody is healthy at the end of spring ball, which is great," Allen said.
By design, he looked for players who were faster mentioning true freshman Jaylin Lucas as one of the new speedster running backs. Junior AJ Barner has the potential to be the best tight end in the history of Indiana football, Allen added.
Defensively, Allen is ecstatic to have a healthy Tiawan Mullen back for his senior season as well as defensive back Devon "Monster" Matthews.
The day after the last game this past season, five players came into Allen's office wanting to talk about how to make sure an ugly season never happens again. The Hoosiers have since been determined to build the best football team.
"All of our players are about to come back and start our summer workouts," Allen said. "Bottom line is we have an awesome opportunity."
Allen is always a tough act to follow, but if anyone is up for the task, it's the serious yet witty Woodson. He recalled the day he got the job at Indiana grateful to be going back home.
"This is the only college job I would've taken," Woodson said having spent half his life in the NBA.
Woodson, similar to Allen, wants to teach and make players better on and off the court.
Woodson presented this idea to his team before the 2021-22 season
"Lastly, I said 'hey, who's going to stay on board and allow Coach Woodson to coach you?' Two or three ball players raised their hands," Woodson said as the crowd erupted into laughter. "I thought 'you've got to be kidding me.' I gave an unbelievable speech."
Fast forward one season, and Woodson's best player, Trayce Jackson-Davis along with three other starters are returning to Indiana.
"With the guys returning, they got a whiff of Coach Woodson already," he said. "I'm a no-nonsense coach."
Woodson mentioned he chased Jackson-Davis to get him to come back even flying out to Los Angeles to see him at workouts and Chicago to catch him before the NBA Combine.
Jackson-Davis gave Woodson a call telling him he wasn't going to the combine. Woodson went back home to Indiana, met with Jackson-Davis and claimed he hasn't stopped smiling since the Greenwood native broke the news he was returning home.
Woodson's first time as a college coach ended with a trip to the NCAA Tournament for Indiana's first time since 2016. Woody wants more. He wants the team to believe they can win Big Ten titles and a national championship.
Woodson used half of his time to open up the floor for questions.
"Ask me anything you want," Woodson said. "I'm not trying to hide a damn thing."
Questions surfaced regarding a wide range of topics including a potential Kentucky matchup on the schedule, Jackson-Davis's jump shot and of course, a couple about Bob Knight.
No matter the sport, Hoosier fans are always willing to come together over delicious southern Indiana strawberries to support their cream and crimson.
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