Big Ten: Leslie Majors
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Like many sports cliches, team player is used too liberally in college football.
That is, unless you're talking about Indiana's Ray Fisher.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Ray Fisher, who led the Hoosiers in receptions and TD catches last season, has made the move from offense to defense.|
The idea of a player moving from offense to defense before his senior year sounds like cruel and unusual punishment. The idea of the player actually offering to play a new position so late in his career is even more unusual. Throw in the fact that Fisher finished as Indiana's top wide receiver in 2008, and his transition to cornerback seems either incredibly heroic or extremely unwise.
"I was just looking for the team's best interest," Fisher explained. "I know we can get better by me playing the position. I'm a team guy and I know I can help a lot at that position."
Fisher isn't a stranger to the cornerback spot, having played both corner and wide receiver at Cleveland's Glenville High School. He recorded four interceptions as a junior before missing all of his senior season with an injury, but he came to Indiana to catch passes.
After appearing in 11 games as a true freshman, Fisher became Indiana's No. 2 option behind record-setter James Hardy in 2007. Fisher recorded 482 yards and five touchdowns that fall as the Hoosiers reached the Insight Bowl. Last year, he led the team in both receptions (42) and touchdown catches (5).
"That’s the position I really love," Fisher said of wide receiver. "But since we’re lacking at corner at Indiana, I’ll play just because there’s a need for it."
Fisher first started joking with the coaches about playing cornerback during his sophomore season. Back then, Indiana was set at corner with Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors. But Fisher's tone turned more serious last fall when injuries depleted the secondary -- and pretty much the whole team -- and the Hoosiers tumbled to last in the Big Ten and 105th nationally in pass defense (260.5 yards per game).
Ideally, Fisher wanted to play both ways, but the need at corner was obvious and Indiana felt good about its wide receivers, even after the April dismissal of Kellen Lewis.
"Wide receiver was a position where we felt like we had a whole lot of depth and was able to afford to send him over to the other side," Hoosiers wide receivers coach Billy Lynch said. "Ray’s just a football player. He’s a high-energy guy, he’s a confident guy and he obviously can run, so he brings an enthusiasm and a confidence and a presence to the defensive side of the ball.
"I think that move is going to pay off big for our team."
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Fisher makes his first start at cornerback tonight when Indiana opens the season against Eastern Kentucky.
Despite the long layoff, Fisher has gradually picked up the nuances of his new-old position. He received a taste of how cornerbacks operate by working closely with Porter as a young wide receiver.
Though he misses the wideout position and hopes to play both ways in the NFL, Fisher sees at least one bonus to his new spot.
"I talk a little bit more trash because on the defensive side of the ball, you don’t have to run back to the huddle," he said. "You can just chill and relax. All day long, it's nonstop with me."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Austin Thomas might be a little torn about the seemingly never-ending Big Ten-SEC debate. The junior strong safety plays for a Big Ten team, Indiana, but he grew up in the thick of SEC country (Woodstock, Ga.). Thomas seems to be settling in as a Yankee, though, after leading Indiana and ranking seventh in the league with 112 tackles last season. His 22-tackle performance against Michigan State last season marked the first time a Hoosiers player collected 20 tackles in a game since 1993.
Thomas anchors a Hoosiers secondary in search of two new cornerbacks. Though much of the offseason attention focused on quarterback Kellen Lewis, who was suspended for spring ball and reinstated earlier this month, Indiana's ultimate fate usually hinges on its defense. Here's what Thomas had to say about his southern roots, Lewis and a crucial season for the Hoosiers, who come off their first bowl appearance since 1993.
Coming from Georgia, did you grow up an SEC fan?
Austin Thomas: I was kind of neutral growing up, just as far as the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry. I had several friends go out and play in the SEC and the ACC, but I didn't really sway one way or the other.
So where do you stand in the whole Big Ten vs. SEC debate? Are you a Big Ten guy now, or do you stand up for the SEC?
AT: Growing up in the South, man, it's hard to knock southern football. But playing in the Big Ten, I wouldn't ask for it any other way. It's great competition. So I'm a Big Ten guy now.
I'm sure not a ton of guys from Georgia come to Indiana. How did you end up there?
AT: The final factor was my official visit here. I had a great time and just fell in love with the place in two days: the staff, academics, everything. Coach Hep [Terry Hoeppner] recruited me when he was at Miami of Ohio, and when he made the switch over here and brought the whole staff over, he immediately offered me and told me to come up. Talked me into it. I wasn't even planning on coming up. I came up and just fell in love with the place.
So much of what the team did last season was dedicated to him. Have you seen the atmosphere around the program change at all, having finally reached a bowl game?
AT: Absolutely. I can't even believe it's my fourth year here. I've seen so much change as far as the program, our fan base increasing, winning ballgames. He did so much for this program.
The coaches put in the no-huddle offense in spring practice. What was it like going against that system?
AT: It's tough, especially with our offense. We have so many weapons, with Kellen, all our receivers, Marcus [Thigpen] back there. It's tough to keep up with it. I'm really looking forward to staying on the side and watching Kellen and them go to work. It's going to do big things this year.
In the secondary, you guys lost a couple of pretty good players [Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors] at cornerback. How much does it hurt losing those guys and what are you looking for from that group in camp?
AT: Any time you lose two NFL-bound corners, you're going to take a hit. We've got some young guys, but we've got freshmen and sophomores willing to step up. They're working hard. We've got a veteran back there -- Chris Phillips -- he's working hard, too. We'll just see how it goes.
Who is a guy among that group that people haven't heard of but they will this fall?
AT: We've got some real potential in Donnell Jones, a kid from Florida. He passes the eye test already. He's fast, real strong kid. Richard Council looks like he can step up, Chris Adkins, I could name a lot of the young guys. A lot of young, good, physical-looking corners that can step up and play.
Greg [Middleton] had such a big year for you guys down on the line. What stands out to you about how he plays?
AT: Greg's an animal, man. I don't know if there's anybody out there that can contain him. With someone like that on the line, especially as a DB, it makes it that much better when you know you're going to get pressure on the quarterback. That's just something you need as a defense. It's huge.
|AJ Mast/Icon SMI|
|Thomas predicts quarterback Kellen Lewis (above) will have no problem picking up the Hoosiers' new offense.|
I'm sure a lot of fans were anxious to hear about Kellen, whether he'd be back or not. As players, were you ever concerned?
AT: Everybody was concerned. They kind of kept us in the dark. We didn't know what was really going on, but we were just very happy to see him reinstated. Everybody's really excited to have him back.
Were any of you guys in touch with him while he was away?
AT: I stay close to Kellen and I really didn't get to talk to him that much throughout the summer. He went home for a little while to take some time off. He's back now, working out with the team, ever since he's been reinstated.
Is he excited? Disappointed about what happened? What do you gather from him, being back with the team?
AT: Just seeing him the last couple weeks, he just seems like he's got that enthusiasm again. He's excited to be back, ready to work hard, ready to get out there.
After missing spring ball, how do you think he'll pick up the no-huddle offense in camp?
AT: He'll pick it up, no problem. Our coaches built it in for guys just like him. He's been gone for a little bit, but he'll fall back into it.
How critical is this season for your program to keep things going? You mentioned the cornerbacks you lose, you obviously lost [wideout] James [Hardy], but you bring back a lot of guys as well.
AT: Everybody knows exactly how important this season is. It's the most important one we've all had here. Everybody's extremely excited about it. We know we have to win these games, we have to go back [to a bowl game], because we wouldn't have it any other way.