Making the Most of an Opportunity
Sept. 13, 2007
Every kid has a dream growing up. Most kids that play sports want to make it in the professional ranks of whatever sport it is they enjoy. For fifth-year senior fullback Josiah Sears, his dream was simple. He wanted to earn a scholarship from a Division I college football program and was willing to put in all the necessary work to make it happen.
Sears earned all-state accolades at Greenfield Central High School and was hoping that would be enough to get scholarship offers from D-I colleges. But the offers never came, so he had to go to plan B.
"It was a dream to play Division I football," Sears said. "I hoped for that opportunity while I was in high school but didn't get any offers. Indiana was always my favorite school and I followed the basketball and football teams growing up. I had the opportunity to come here as a walk-on and I decided that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to take the opportunity to prove that I could do it, not only to myself, but to others as well."
Sears soon found out that it was not going to be easy to make it as a walk-on for a team in the Big Ten Conference.
"I came in like I was a second-class citizen, which is tough," he said. "You are the low man on the totem pole and that is a struggle coming from high school where you are one of the better players."
It is easy to see how this would be a difficult transition for Sears after being named team captain twice and rushing for 1,730 yards in his senior year at Greenfield Central.
After redshirting the 2003 season, Sears finally got his chance on the field for the Hoosiers, appearing all 11 games of the 2004 season and even catching one pass for four yards.
After the coaching staff evaluated his performance on the playing field, they rewarded the hard work of the walk-on with the one thing he wanted most - a scholarship.
In the 2005 season, he began to see more and more action as each game passed. His best game of the year came against Michigan State on Oct. 29 when he accounted for 55 all-purpose yards. For the season, he amassed 103 yards on 24 carries.
Sears continued his gradual improvement last year, carrying the ball 40 times for 232 yards and four touchdowns. Two of his touchdowns came against Illinois, and he posted his first 100-yard game of his career against Wisconsin.
The improvement from year to year is not just a coincidence. All the experience Sears got in his first two years put him in a position to lead the Hoosiers this season.
"Things start to slow down each year in college," Sears said, "and you feel more comfortable. This year I am going to be one of the oldest guys on the field, so hopefully things will be moving pretty slow and I will be able to see some things that some of the younger guys that are out there might miss."
So far this season, things must be in slow motion, as Sears has scored touchdowns in both of the Hoosiers' games so far. He scored a rushing touchdown against Indiana State and caught a 24-yard touchdown pass at Western Michigan last weekend. The receiving touchdown was the first of his career
Sears is also quick to point out that he would not have been able to improve from year to year without the help of the coaching staff and the players ahead of him when he first arrived on campus.
"I looked up to John Pannozzo, the starting fullback when I got here," Sears said. "We roomed together during camp and he was the first guy I really got to know. I still look up to him as a player and always learned a lot from him about how to play fullback. When I came here, I really hadn't played fullback before, I was always a running back (in high school). So he taught me a lot about blocking and how to do things; and I am thankful for the opportunity to be able to work with him."
While his work ethic and goals have remained the same each year as a Hoosier, the coaching staff has seen a number of changes at the top. In his first two seasons, Gerry DiNardo was the head coach. For the next two years, Terry Hoeppner was at the helm until he passed away this past summer and assistant head coach Bill Lynch was named head coach in June 2007.
"For me it has been the same because I have had the same position coach (Gerald Brown) the whole time," Sears said. "The leadership of the staff has changed a couple different times but I have learned a lot from both staffs. I have a lot of respect for all three men and am thankful to have had the chance to learn under all of them."
And he plans to put what he has learned from those coaches into action after his playing days are over at Indiana if he is not able to continue playing football at the next level somewhere.
"Hopefully I'll still be playing football (next year), but that's not up to me," Sears said. "If it doesn't work out, then I would like to pursue a career in coaching college football. I have learned a lot about the game in college and have found that's where I think God wants me to be. Hopefully I can continue to have an impact on people and have a positive impact on someone's life as a coach."
His hard work and dedication to the Indiana football program were recognized by his teammates prior to the start of the 2007 season when he was named one of the two team captains in a vote by his teammates.
"It was a tremendous honor to be elected by my teammates and I am thankful for it," he said. "Hopefully it is a testament to how hard I have trained and how hard I have worked. I have always been a guy that wanted to lead by example and work as hard as I could to show the other guys how to do it."
So while Sears will continue his tough, bruising running for the Hoosiers this year and try to lead them to a bowl game for the first time since 1993, he remains thankful for the opportunity given to him over four years ago.
"I'm glad I had the opportunity to walk on," Sears said, "because it gave me the opportunity to prove myself. I had to work harder than the other guys, because I had more to prove to get what I wanted, which was a scholarship."
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