Porter Leads Hoosier D on Quest to Play 13
Sept. 6, 2007
Three years ago this month, a kid from Louisiana stepped onto the turf at Memorial Stadium for his first contest as a member of the Indiana football team. The true freshman who nobody knew - he came to Bloomington as an unheralded player - was getting his first experience in a game situation at the college level.
On just his second play, the freshman got everyone's attention. Central Michigan quarterback Grant Arnoldink found himself under heavy pressure and lofted a desperation pass. The kid jumped in front of it at the 18-yard line and was brought down at the 16 for his first career interception.
The Hoosiers entered the second half up 20-3, but the Chippewas got the ball out of the break and marched downfield. On the drive's 13th play, the unheralded rookie essentially sealed the victory for the Hoosiers, picking off a pass at his own four and running it back all the way for a touchdown to make it a 27-3 game.
Tracy Porter sealed a place in IU football history with that return. But three years later, he has forged his name among the all-time greats for Indiana University.
"For the most part, I'm still the same guy that can go out there and make plays, can cover guys and catch interceptions," Porter says when comparing the player he was then to the one he is now. "But there's a slight difference there because I've put on more weight, matured a lot and have gained more experience. So, there's similarities and differences to me."
Porter was a talented defensive player from day one. But the Porter of today is far more than just a brilliant athlete and one of the best cornerbacks in the Big Ten. He is a spirited leader and an example of the true student-athlete. After Porter posted a poor grade point average as a freshman, a new head coach showed him the value of a college education and helped him become the honor roll student he is today.
"Coming in, my freshman year, I wasn't doing too hot," Porter says. "After seeing what my grades were like, I settled down, and Coach Hep took me under his wing. The coaching staff did a great job of creating the study tables for the team, and I just sat down and applied myself from there. Since then my grades have been excellent."
Porter came to Bloomington after being recruited by Gerry DiNardo to play for the Hoosiers. But from Terry Hoeppner's first days as the team's head coach, Porter became very close to his new leader. Now, with Hoeppner gone, Porter feels extra motivation to help the team accomplish the goals that its late head coach set out for his players.
"The goals he had, he didn't set them too high, but he set them high enough where when guys reached them, they'd feel good about themselves," Porter says. "I most definitely feel like the goals he had of going to a bowl game, getting the crowd hyped - things like that, getting more people in the stands - I definitely have to work for that goal. As a team, we want to work as hard as we can, not just myself, but us as a team. If you win more games, more people will come to the games."
In order for the Hoosiers to do that, Porter and his teammates on the defensive side of the ball will be expected to show improvement from their performance in 2006. The squad allowed its opposition nearly 33 points and over 400 yards per game. But in Porter's eyes, the key to improvement isn't getting better, it's getting more consistent.
"If you look at the Iowa game, the Michigan State game, the Connecticut game - there were a number of games where the defense stepped up and showed what we can do," the Port Allen, La., native says. "But there were games where we didn't step up and we lost a few of those because of that.
"I think we've gotten more athletic, guys are more committed because we know what we can do - we know that we can stop teams no matter who they are," he continues. "Guys that were committed during the offseason in the summer - working out, lifting - they are even more committed in camp, coming into the film room and watching more film. As a defense, we developed chemistry, working together as an entire unit and coming together to resolve issues on the field, and that makes it a lot easier and allows us to play faster."
Chemistry is something that is evident with the 2007 edition of the Hoosiers. The team is very close and supportive, both on and off the field. Even after spending hours upon hours in meetings within their positions, players often spend their free time with those same friends off the field, be it playing video games in the locker room or studying together in the evenings.
"I can speak on behalf of my position," Porter says. "The corners are together as much as possible. We do as many things as we can with each other, on and off the field, to develop a sense of family, unity, to go along with that chemistry on the football field. That just spreads out throughout each position, positions hang out with different positions, so as an entire family the football team has been drawn even closer because of what happened with Coach Hep. As a whole, the team developed a really good chemistry."
And the chemistry that has developed is evident both on and off the field. That chemistry is a key weapon in the Hoosiers' arsenal as they embark on their goal to "Play 13" and earn a trip to a bowl game for the first time since 1993. It's this attention to detail that Porter says crucial to IU's success.
"We try to do the little things right that will add up to the big things," he says. "That will transpire on the field as well, so if we do those little things right and continue to develop that chemistry as a team, I think we'll have a big season."
Three years later, the kid who nobody in the stands knew about is a far different person - though not necessarily a far different football player. He is a crucial cog on a Hoosier squad that is one of the most talented teams Bloomington has seen in many years. And most importantly, come May, he will walk out of Assembly Hall with a degree in his hand - something that might not have been his primary focus three years ago.
With that degree in hand and the character qualities he possesses, the future for Porter is bright. And for a guy who was a second team All-Big Ten selection in 2006, there certainly is the possibility that he'll be moving on to the professional ranks.
"I'm not the type that predicts the future," Porter says with a smile, "but I think if I stay healthy, continue to work as hard as I am, have a really good season, I possibly have a chance of going to the next level. But I'm not setting all my eggs on that. I'm graduating in May, and that's the only thing I know for certain as of right now."
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