Written By: Nick Holmes (@HoosierHolmes)
It's a little hard to believe, but it's already August and we are only five weeks or 35 days from getting the 2015 season underway. We continue our Countdown to Kickoff by taking a closer look at number 35 on the Hoosiers, Nile Sykes.
When Brian Knorr was hired to revamp the Hoosiers defense he brought with him the 3-4 defensive alignment. For this change to be successful, the team needed a versatile athlete to play in the hybrid bandit position, a mix between defense end and outside linebacker. The team utilized Nick Mangieri, Zach Shaw, and Robert McCray III in this role last fall. After the graduation of defensive end Bobby Richardson, the team decided to move both Mangieri and McCray to end. Now with Shaw penciled in as starter at bandit, the team is looking for another player who possess the necessary versatility to play in the role, and that player looks to be Sykes.
Before making his way to Bloomington, the Illinois native played his prep ball at Montini Catholic High School, where as a senior he recorded 80 tackles, including 12 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. His impact on the gridiron did not go unnoticed as he was a first team all-state selection and was a member of the U.S. Under-19 National Team.
The talented athlete was originally a member of Notre Dame's 2014 recruiting class, and not only had he signed his national letter of intent but reported to the South Bend campus last June (2014). However, Sykes decided that the Fighting Irish may not be a good fit for him and both parties believed that a split was in the best interest of both. The school released him from the contractual agreement and Sykes began looking elsewhere and quickly decided on the Big Ten school in Southern Indiana.
The announcement was made on July 4, 2014 that Sykes was going to join the Hoosiers football program. "After Coach Kelly and Notre Dame released Nile from his NLI, he reached out to us," Wilson said. "We recruited Nile hard and he was a guy we really wanted. We are happy to have him and welcome him into our program."
After arriving in Bloomington, the Hoosiers coaching staff decided to redshirt the former three-star prospect, allowing him to become more comfortable in the Hoosiers defensive scheme while continuing to physically develop. Despite not playing a down during the season, Sykes still made an impact by helping the team prepare for upcoming opponents. He was named scout team player of the week twice during the season.
During this week's Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, Coach Wilson specifically mentioned Sykes as one of the redshirt freshman who is likely to see playing time this fall. "Nile Sykes will be in the mix in the two-deep at our outside rush-end bandit position," said Wilson.
Sykes looks to be a big part of the Hoosiers defense this fall and going forward. The versatile athlete looks like a perfect blend of athleticism and size (6'2" 242-pounds), which should allow him to thrive in the hybrid bandit position, where the both the ability to drop back in coverage and get pressure on a quarterback are highly valued. Don't be surprised if you hear Sykes named called early and often this fall on both the defense and special teams.