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Indiana's Thigpen dresses to impress

7/25/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- Like the rest of his Indiana teammates, running back Marcus Thigpen has to wear school-issued sweats on road trips. He wishes things were different.

"I'd rather wear this," Thigpen said Friday.

Thigpen rolled into Friday's interview sessions wearing a suit that fell somewhere between peach and salmon on the color palette. The Hoosiers' senior stood out among his fellow Big Ten players, most of whom played it safe with their fashion choices.

The suit came from a store in Detroit, Thigpen's hometown, and he owns similar outfits in blue, red, purple and white. He has even taken teammates like Brandon Walker-Roby and Richard Council to the store.

"I like bright colors," he said. "They stand out."

Thigpen will be wearing the same thing as everyone else on the field this fall, but he hopes his play makes him stand out. The speedy senior is a proven threat on kickoff returns, leading the nation in return average two years ago (30.1 yards per return), but he has yet to make his mark as a running back.

He rushed for 568 yards as a junior but finished second on the team behind quarterback Kellen Lewis. At only 182 pounds last year, Thigpen received 11.5 carries per game and was used sparingly on runs between the tackles. As a result, he bulked up to 200 pounds during the offseason.

"Even though they try to get me more to the outside, I want to run up the middle, show them that I can do it," Thigpen said. "That was the main reason they didn't send me through the hole, because I was so little. I was like, 'I've got to get bigger, so I can be a fourth-down back. If we're at fourth-and-inches, I want to be in there. I don't want to be on the sideline, hoping that we get it."

Thigpen's weight-gain plan was, well, interesting. He actually gave up pork and beef and started eating turkey, fish, chicken and plenty of carbs (pasta, potatoes, rice). With six mini-meals a day, he added bulk.

How big a rushing load Thigpen would handle in 2008 became a key question after Lewis was suspended for violating team rules and missed spring practice. Thigpen originally thought Lewis, like wide receiver James Bailey, would not return to the team, but the quarterback was reinstated earlier this month. Despite Lewis' athleticism, Thigpen expects an enhanced role in Indiana's no-huddle spread.

"I feel like I should be the rushing leader, I'm the running back," Thigpen said. "Not taking anything away from Kellen -- he's a very good quarterback -- but I feel I should take more of the load, the running, the pounding, than he should."