BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana football's coaching staff got a makeover allowing defensive line coach Paul Randolph to enter the scene, showing just how beautiful a solid defensive line can be.
Randolph was hired by head coach Tom Allen in Jan. 2022 and holds 24 years of coaching experience, 21 of those specifically with the defensive line. This season, Randolph's experience paired with some senior leadership from players could go beyond last season's 2-10 record.
"They have that experience," Randolph said. "They’ve got experience in our system, which is awesome, and then they do have leadership.
"James Head Jr., Demarcus Elliott, and Sio (Nofoagatoto'a), but all three of those guys have immense experience here at IU, in the Big Ten, and they’ve done a tremendous job even since spring of leading the group. Coaches were leaning heavily on them because they’ve been in the trenches during game time in this league."
Fifth year defensive lineman Head can attest to leading a defense even when plenty of adversity struck the Hoosiers on both sides of the ball. The defense ranked last in the Big Ten standings allowing 33.3 points per game for 399 total points in the 2021 season.
To make it worse, Head missed the first five games of the season to a right foot injury with nothing to do but watch the team drown and try to offer encouragement.
"Coming off that injury, I was doubting myself," Head said. "I was sad, but the coaching staff and the players all backed me up on everything. They were all on my side."
Last season, Head made four tackles, one for loss. Now, Head's foot is healed, and he's ready to fight for a better story.
"I’m more motivated than ever," he said. "Trying to get back out there and prove myself again. That’s what I’m battling with myself right now. Trying to prove I can do it at a high level still."
Randolph has the credentials to get Head there once again and said the fifth year senior approached the spring wanting to improve on fundamental techniques. He hasn't missed a practice and has worked his tail off to get back to greatness.
"He’s gotten better every single day at working and focusing on getting better at one specific thing a day," Randolph said. "So, just pad level, aggressiveness, playing the run, different things like that. He’s really improved and excited about his mindset. "
It's no wonder a mindset could be bruised after a physical injury and a hurting season record, but the good news is, the LEO energy and determination has been known to carry players out of the trenches.
"My mindset is different," Head said. "I am trying to attack everything with all I’ve got knowing this is my last year. The urgency is a little more amped up."
This new attitude in Head is why Randolph has been the key to unlocking a fresh defensive line. He's shown the players new ways to approach plays they've never seen before. That's odd, Head said, because he's been playing at defensive line his entire football career.
"Coach Randolph — he’s like a pass rush master," Head said. "We’re pass rushing everyday focusing on little things, little moves that I’ve been missing. Making sure all our technique is where it needs to be at."
Come Sep. 2, Head will have had months of a new mindset, a new coach in Randolph and perhaps a newer version of his foot to propel him into a new season.
"I’m attacking everything like it could be my last play."
Related stories on Indiana football:
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- IU SECONDARY WORKING TO REGAIN TAKEAWAY IDENTITY Indiana's 17 interceptions in 2020 ranked second in all of college football, powering the Hoosiers to a 6-2 record. Indiana's defensive backfield lost its identity and was decimated by injuries in 2021, leading to just five interceptions as the Hoosiers fell to a 2-10 record. The veterans who built Indiana's takeaway identity in 2020 have returned for one last season, eager to reverse the momentum in 2022. CLICK HERE