Meet the Coaches: Grant Cain Coordinating Indiana Special Teams, Tight Ends

Coming over with head coach Curt Cignetti from James Madison, Grant Cain will have his fingerprints all over various parts of the 2024 Indiana football team. He’s the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach, a role he filled for Cignetti with the Dukes.
Grant Cain previously coached at James Madison from 2019-23.
Grant Cain previously coached at James Madison from 2019-23. /

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana lost four one-score games during the 2023 season, including its final three games to finish 3-9.

While the coaching staff and roster is vastly different heading into 2024, Indiana special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Grant Cain is using that statistic to underscore the importance of a unit that often gets overlooked.

“[Special] teams contributes to wins,” Cain said in an interview with Rhett Lewis. “... Field position, big plays, momentum-changing plays, they’re not always going to show up in the stat book.” 

Cain said Curt Cignetti cold called him to join the James Madison staff when he was at Mercer as a special teams coach, linebackers coach, assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator from 2013-18. He was with James Madison dating back to 2019, a stretch in which the Dukes went 52-9. 

Cain’s special teams unit had a strong 2023 season, and James Madison ranked No. 14 nationally in ESPN’s special team’s efficiency rating at 63.9. The Dukes tied for fourth in the nation with two blocked punts, and they ranked 13th nationally with 14.8 yards per punt return.

Punter Ryan Hanson finished with a Sun Belt-high 29 punts inside the 20-yard line, at least eight more than any other conference punter, and the 25 fair catches of his punts led the Sun Belt. Kicker Camden Wise was perfect on extra-point attempts and went 16-for-18 on field goals, good for the second-best percentage in the Sun Belt and tied for 10th in the country.

Coaching James Madison tight ends was Cain’s first job on the offensive side of the ball. During his playing career, he was a defensive back and team captain at Catawba College, a Division II program in Salisbury, N.C. He held various defensive coaching roles from 2003-18 at Catawba, with the Colorado Crush in the Arena Football League, Coastal Carolina and Mercer.

He loved the physical and instinctual nature of coaching defense, but that hasn’t gone away completely.

“You get a lot of that with special teams,” Cain said. “So you’re living in a little chaotic world where you’ve got to have traffic rules and know how to fit off different things and how to react to different things.”

Now he’s one of six assistant coaches who came with Cignetti to Indiana from James Madison, a decision Cain called a “no-brainer.” 

“We’re going to be fast, physical and relentless,” Cain said. “I truly believe that special teams is an instinctual play. We want these guys to play fast, and in order to do that let’s be very disciplined and simple in our approach where these guys aren’t thinking too much. But also we want to be inwardly simple but outwardly complex, where we’re keeping our opponent on their toes.”

James Evans will continue to punt for the Hoosiers, a job he’s held in every game since the beginning of the 2021 season. Cain thinks the kicking competition between Louisiana Monroe transfer Derek McCormick and returning redshirt freshman Nico Radicic continue all the way up to Week 1. 

Georgia Southern transfer Mark Langston and returning Hoosier Jaxon Miller are the two long snappers on the roster, and the offseason is an important time to work on chemistry between long snappers, holders, kickers and punters. Aside from quarterbacks and linemen, Cain said players at most positions are required to play special teams in the NFL, and he wants to help the Hoosiers develop that aspect of their resume. 

“Special teams, to me and to our organization, is the tip of the spear,” Cain said. “We’re going to lead from the front, we’re the first to the fight. We’ve got a chance to make the most damage, and then the offense and defense can come in and do their job.”

Cain’s responsibilities aren’t limited to special teams, however, as he’s also Indiana’s new tight ends coach. He’s most familiar with tight end Zach Horton, one of 13 transfers from James Madison. A 6-foot-4, 254-pound senior, Horton made the All-Sun Belt first team in 2023 after ranking fifth nationally among tight ends with six touchdown receptions, along with 27 catches for 275 yards. 

“Bulldog,” Cain said of Horton. “Guy loves ball, a guy that’s going to go out there every day and just put his heart into it for Indiana. You’re going to ask him to do a lot of different things, and he’s going to give you everything he’s got.”

But Indiana also returns several tight ends. He had dinner with his position group a few times when he first came to Bloomington, which were opportunities to learn their backgrounds and how they ended up at Indiana.

Tight ends Trey Walker and James Bomba are back, and they’ve been with the program since 2019 and 2020, respectively. Neither has been used significantly in the passing game, but they bring veteran experience as blockers and on special teams. 

Indiana also brings back redshirt sophomore Brody Foley and redshirt freshman Sam West, and added freshman Brody Kosin. Cain tells young tight ends to focus on the process and understand that it takes time to develop. 

Cain envisions tight end as a versatile position for Indiana, with its role varying week to week based on which one-on-one matchups it can win. 

“We use the tight ends as good as anybody in the country, I think, being versatile with those guys,” Cain said. “They’re lining up all over the place, they’re doing different things so every day you’ve got to be paying attention, locked in. It doesn’t get boring at all.”

Related stories on Indiana football

Meet the Coaches: Indiana Director of Athletic Performance Derek Owings ‘A Winning Edge’

Meet the Coaches: John Miller Leading Indiana Running Backs Fresh Off Playing Career

Meet the Coaches: Indiana QB Coach Tino Sunseri ‘A Real Rising Star’

Published |Modified
Jack Ankony


Jack Ankony is a Sports Illustrated/FanNation writer for He graduated from Indiana University's Media School with a degree in journalism. Follow on Twitter @ankony_jack.