Indiana’s defense, which gave up 41 points a game in Big Ten play last season, started this season allowing 35 to Indiana State and 41 to Navy.
The easy joke: How much improvement should you expect from a unit whose best player is a former baseball walk-on?
Last week, that player — safety Greg Heban — and his fellow defenders decided enough was enough. For the first time in 61 games, the Hoosiers held an opponent without an offensive touchdown in a 42-10 win over Bowling Green, which had been averaging 37.5 points a game.
Heban tied his career high with nine solo tackles among his 12 stops overall.
“We talked about how the defense was holding us back,” said the senior from Muncie, Ind. “We let up 444 yards rushing against Navy, and that is something that never needs to happen. I think the chip on our shoulder grew a lot bigger.”
That chip has served Heban (pronounced HEE-ban) well in his fight to become a major-college athlete.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder was an all-state high school football player, but drew interest only from Division III schools.
“So I was focused on going somewhere for baseball,” he said. “I visited a couple of places for baseball. But I always had IU in the back of my mind. My sister is here and I love the place.”
Making the baseball team wasn’t easy.
“The summer before school started I went to a late walk-on camp and got invited,” Heban said. “Once I got that opportunity, I took it right away.”
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The left-handed pitcher with a 90-mph fastball made two appearances in spring 2010. So how did football come into the picture?
Intramural football is a big deal at Indiana. The baseball team had an intramural football team. At the time, staff members could play. The quarterback was baseball coach Tracy Smith.
“All the frats got really frustrated because he was such a good quarterback,” Heban said. “We won the whole thing and I had a pretty good year. After that, Coach Smith and I talked about walking on for football.”
Smith contacted then-coach Bill Lynch about Heban. After a meeting, an invitation to walk on followed, and Heban got into all 12 games in fall 2010.
Heban impressed the staff enough to earn a scholarship before his redshirt sophomore year and has started ever since, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten last season.
As Heban has tried to boost a football program that has only one winning season in the past 18, the Indiana baseball program has flourished. The Hoosiers got to Omaha for the College World Series in June, and Heban was watching.
“When I got there for baseball, the senior class now was who I came in with so I stay in touch with those guys a lot,” he said. “Once they got back to Bloomington, I met up with them. They all talked about what a great experience Omaha was and how amazing that place was.”
Can the football team make strides toward a similar jump soon?
“People talk about Indiana being primarily a basketball school,” Heban said. “With the success they’ve had and now the success of the baseball program and soccer, all that kind of rubs off on us, so I feel it’s football’s time to step up.”