Written By Evan McShane (@veryreasonable)
“A lot of people didn’t think a freshman could play left tackle in the Big Ten.” Coy Cronk proved those people wrong in impressive fashion last season. Cronk set an Indiana record for true freshman by starting all 13 games at left tackle. Not only did he demonstrate his durability, he garnered True Freshman All-American honors and a Big Ten All-Freshman team selection in the process. Cronk helped Indiana finish third in the Big Ten in total offense while protecting quarterback Richard Lagow’s blindside. He bolstered an offensive line that paved the way for Devine Redding to surpass 1,000 yards rushing for the second-straight year. Cronk looks to build on a surprising and successful freshman year.
He starts by carrying himself with the maturity of an upperclassman. “It’s not like it’s your first time where you don’t know who’s going to be there, what to expect,” Cronk said. “Just knowing what’s going to happen, what I need to do to be better this year than I was last year, and have a better overall mindset heading into camp.” After being thrust into a starting role last year, Coy has earned the right to be a vocal leader on the offensive line. Speaking about the biggest difference between entering fall camp as a sophomore rather than a true freshman, Cronk says, “I think just a year of experience, all the way around to the weight room, film, I mean just another year under your belt to get bigger, faster, stronger, and you know what to expect going in.” Know what to expect makes things easier in almost all aspects of life. He knows as well as anyone the season is a grind, and he understands how vital mental health is to sustained success. “It’s between the ears, and that’s what I try to stress to them,” Cronk will say to the incoming freshman. “My running joke is, this is the best you’re ever going to feel right here. Wait until it’s week 10 or, you know, something like that. Wait until way down the road, you’re going to tell me y’all feel great then? I’m like, ‘absolutely not.’ So you’ve got to put in the work now so you can take that wear and tear and be ready mentally to go in there and compete.” Words of wisdom from Coy. Work hard now because you don’t know how your body will respond throughout the season.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing topics for fans is the transition from Kevin Wilson to Tom Allen at head coach. Offensive line coach Greg Frey also departed for Jim Harbaugh’s staff in Michigan. Despite all the turnover, change on the field might not be as dramatic as the change on paper. Cronk quelled any concerns by saying, “I think it’s going to be very similar as far as terms of what the both expect. They both want full effort and energy every play, getting after people. So as far as a mindset goes, it’s pretty much the same. Maybe a couple tweaks here and there technique-wise.” Furthermore, new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord plans to run a fast-paced offense similar to Wilson’s. The up-tempo style can be hard to adjust to for incoming freshman, but luckily Coy and the other veterans are used to an emphasis on speed. “You’ve got to bust your tail in the offseason just to get in that shape so you can walk into camp ready to roll. If you do nothing, it’s going to be a long camp. That’s how I felt last year. I didn’t know what to expect. Next thing you know we’re snapping the ball, it felt like every second.” Cronk continues, “Now this year with an understanding, I feel like I’m personally ready to go out there and play at a faster tempo just because we worked for it, and I worked for it all offseason.” This year, the new freshman on the offensive line are fortunate to have Cronk as a firsthand example of the rewards hard work can bring.
Cronk isn’t shy about sharing advice with his fellow linemen: “It doesn’t matter if you’re the best offensive lineman in the world, best player in the world, if you don’t know the play you’re going to look bad out there.” Along with the mental fortitude to endure a full college football season, a keen awareness of how the offense works is essential to last in the Big Ten. Cronk has had the benefit of learning from some of the best players in Indiana football history, current NFL offensive linemen Dan Feeney and Jason Spriggs. “Before me I had Dan [Feeney]. Dan and Jason [Spriggs] both did it. I talked to them a lot,” Coy shared. “They pretty much, in so many words said, ‘it’s on you. It can be done, but we can’t tell you there’s some secret sauce or formula where you can go out there and just do it.” Cronk doesn’t need secret sauce. Just hard work and a good mindset. Following in the footsteps of guys like Dan Feeney, Dimitric Camiel, and Jason Spriggs is a tall task. Coy Cronk is ready to fill the void. When asked who else will step up, Coy quickly anointed redshirt sophomore Simon Stepaniak, “I think Simon is ready to step up big. I expect him to step up big time and be an anchor.” Stepaniak stepped up last season by starting against Purdue and in the bowl game. He showed some promise, and like Coy, many think he’s ready to breakthrough.
In addition to the coaching changes, an unclear answer at center has some Indiana fans nervous. “At center, we’ve got to find our guy. I think there’s a lot of great talent we have. I think that’s why you need camp. You’ve got to figure out who’s going to stand out and who’s going to go hard every single day.” Cronk isn’t worried about center because of the next man up mentality of this offensive line. He confidently states, “whoever we put at center I know I’m going to have full faith in him because we got a couple guys who can really go out there and play right now.” It’s possible that a true freshman will be the one to step up at center how Coy stepped in at left tackle last season. Could Harry Crider be that guy? “I don’t see why not,” Cronk says. “If he thinks he’s a number one and he plays like a number one he’ll be fine. But if he thinks, ‘it’s my freshman year, poor me type of deal’ then I don’t see it happening. It’s really up to the kid, in my opinion, just where his headspace is at and how much he believes in himself. I don’t think you can ever rule it out though, kids got a world of talent.” He understands that talent alone isn’t enough.
Cronk doubles down on the importance of having a positive mindset. Whether it’s Crider or someone else, Cronk isn’t making excuses for anyone. He says, “especially with what happened last year, I don’t think there’s any reason they can’t come in and play. There’s absolutely zero reason. I know we’ve got depth in certain places and stuff like that but the cream of the crop is always going to rise.” Coy Cronk is right and you should believe him. To anyone saying he can’t replicate his performance from last season, Cronk is going to prove them wrong.