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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — One of the main reasons why I've always enjoyed covering college sports more than the pros through four decades — or TWO centuries, depending on how our aging eyeballs want to look at — is that I love watching kids progress through their careers.

In big-time college sports, they come in young and naive most of the time, and they have to learn their way through the college game. There are often bumps along the way, but when all the success finally comes, it's great to see.

Watching the journey is fun. So is watching the growth, and the maturity along the way.

Forty-five years ago next month, I saw a young, quiet and shy true freshman named Mike Woodson score his first points as an Indiana basketball player in a November 1976 basketball game against South Dakota. 

I was a young, quiet and shy true freshman at Indiana myself that night, and I've thoroughly enjoyed watching Mike Woodson's journey all these years. When we left four years later, he had scored more points than all but one Indiana player in history, and it was so much fun to chronicle his journey through the years.

There's going to be a lot of emotion in two Tuesdays when Woodson is back at Assembly Hall, coaching his first game as Indiana's head coach. I'll be there too, and that's going to be a very cool career-arc moment. 

Cool moments, they matter. 

And we had a cool moment Saturday night in Indiana's football game against Ohio State — yeah, really. Indiana tight end Peyton Hendershot caught five passes in the game, including the Hoosiers' only touchdown, and he set a school record in the process.

That's a nice way to spend National Tight Ends Day, which was on Sunday.

Hendershot now has 118 career catches as a tight end, one better than Ted Bolser, who played at Indiana from 2010 to 2013. Bolser basically owns all the records for tight ends and is the school standard-bearer at the position, but Hendershot is about to steal all of them from him.

The receptions mark is now gone. Bolser gained 1,337 yards through the air, and right now Hendershot sits at 1,227, so he's closing in on that one, too. Bolser had 15 touchdown catches, and Hendershot is now at 12.

Hendershot's journey through his four years in Bloomington has been a bit of a whirlwind. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound North Salem, Ind. native came to Indiana in 2017 as a freak athlete out of Tri-West High School west of Indianapolis. He was one of the best tight end prospects in the country and also had a nice high school basketball career.

He freely admits that when he arrived at Indiana, that he had no idea what hard work really was. He redshirted his freshman year, and started 10 games his redshirt freshman year, but had only 15 catches on the season. He took things for granted, he said, and expected big things to happen for him, whether he worked hard or not.

But in 2019 the light came on. He looked around the Big Ten and saw guys getting all-conference recognition, and he didn't think that they were any better than he was. So he got in the weight room and busted his tail. He caught hundreds of passes after practice, always bugging the quarterbacks for extra throws.

"Now he's always out there, 'Mike, Mike, throw me some balls,'' Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said with a laugh earlier this year. "He really wants to be the best player he can be.''

During that 2019 season when Indiana turned the corner and went 8-5, their most wins since 1993, Hendershot had 52 catches for 662 yards, both school bests for tight ends. He was a third-team all-Big Ten tight end, and clearly said that wasn't good enough. He wanted to be the best tight end in the league.

But then 2020 came, and things sort of unraveled. He had a legal issue to deal with — it was quickly resolved — and needed a couple of minor surgeries on his shoulder and ankle. When it was time to rehab, COVID-19 hit in March of 2020, and he couldn't be around Indiana's football facility at all to get his body back where it belonged.

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"I couldn't get really any treatment on my body," Hendershot said earlier this year. "Coming into the end of last year, it was kind of an 'am I ready to go?' type of thing, [and I was] not confident."

The season, interrupted several times by COVID protocols, turned out the be a rough one for Hendershot, despite the fact that Indiana was winning a lot of games. He uncharacteristically had a lot of drops, and never felt quite right physically.

But the winning also re-energized him, and he vowed to come back better than ever. No one worked harder in the weight room this offseason, and he's finally dialed in at the perfect weight. He's faster, has better hands and runs great routes.

He has 29 catches for 341 yards already this season and he is, without question, my offensive MVP on this team this year. Snicker if you want that he'd getting that honor by default with this struggling unit, and I won't really argue with you.

But Hendershot has been impressive, and that's the feel-good part of the story. That light has come on and he's at his best right now. He's definitely going to get a shot at the next level now, and that's a wonderful thing.

He's dialed in, and he's mature. He knows now what it takes to be great, and he's putting in the work to get there. He's a high-energy, emotional kid, and it's great to see him have success.

This season has been tough for everyone on the Indiana offense, partly because of the schedule and partly because Indiana has already had to play four quarterbacks this season.

Hendershot said Saturday night that he hated to see backup quarterback Jack Tuttle get hurt after Indiana's first drive, which ended with a Tuttle-to-Hendershot touchdown pass.

"You can see how good our offense can be with that first drive,'' Hendershot said. "I don't know how many plays it was — (15 plays for 75 yards) — but we kept going, marched down the field and scored.''

Despite the struggles, Hendershot is fighting to make it better. He's still confident that will happen.

"Coach Allen challenged us this week with one thing we could do better from last week,'' he said. "We needed the leaders to step up and make plays. We made sure in practice this week that we did things drastically different because what we were doing previously was not working.

"Coach Allen challenged us do more, do something extra to get us on the path of wining. We know we are a good football team. We need to play our best football for four quarters — and that's not what we have done.'' 

Hendershot is focused on winning at Maryland now. That's next, and this team still has a lot to prove.

"Coach Allen's challenge was to learn from this, move on, and now it's time to focus on Maryland. That is the biggest game of the season because it is the next one. I feel like all we need is one game to get going and rolling. All it takes is one game to get the team's confidence back.

"I think we have to keep our head down and keep doing the work. Everything you do in the dark comes to the light. You don't know how close you are to breaking through. We just have to keep pushing, keep working, and hopefully we get closer to our goal.''

That attitude and maturity wouldn't have been evident in previous years. Losing might have just made him angry and tough to deal with then. Now, he's a captain and a team leader.

The journey isn't over yet, but it sure has been fun to watch. And here's to Hendershot for making it all happen. He's grown into an all-Big Ten tight end. it's great to see.