If you ask Indiana receivers coach Grant Heard about Ty Fryfogle, one of the first things he tends to bring up is that the 6-foot-2, 214-pound senior from Lucedale, Miss., should have another year.
If it weren’t for injuries to IU’s receiving corps during Fryfogle’s freshman season in 2017, he may have redshirted. If the four-game redshirt rule existed then, that extra year would have been even more likely.
“I had to play him as a true freshman, which for him probably wasn’t the best thing to happen,” Heard said in December.
Fryfogle was raw. He didn’t even know the term “fade” route, because he just told play-callers and quarterbacks back in small-town Mississippi to throw him a “jump ball.” That’s why the Hoosiers nicknamed him “Jump Ball.”
But Heard saw something in a prospect whose senior highlight tape, simply named “Touchdowns,” showed him out-jumping corners for deep balls. That potential blossomed fully on the college stage in 2020, as Fryfogle posted back-to-back 200-yard receiving performances, the first to ever do that in Big Ten history.
Suddenly, the guy who could have used another year didn’t necessarily need one. NFL teams were watching their own highlights reels of the Hoosiers’ jump-ball fiend.
But on Friday, Heard was granted that extra year. The senior receiver, who can return because of the additional year the NCAA granted fall athletes on account of the pandemic, decided he had more to give IU. The Big Ten’s receiver of the year, who led the Hoosiers with 721 yards and seven touchdowns in eight games, will look to build on those totals in 2021.
“I have been presented with the opportunity to declare for the NFL Draft. However, after long talks with my mom, family, friends, and coaches, I have decided to return for my last year of eligibility at Indiana University,” Fryfogle said in a statement posted on Twitter.
“My work here at Indiana University is not yet finished. There are many great things in store for this football team in 2021. The future is very bright and I am excited to be a part of it.”
Fryfogle’s return is a massive gain for a Hoosier squad aiming to build off a 6-2 season. While fellow senior Whop Philyor has declared for the NFL Draft, the return of Fryfogle keeps at least one of Mike Penix Jr.’s favorite targets in the fold. Penix, a second-team All-Big Ten selection, was often able to find Fryfogle along the sideline in critical situations, including three touchdowns during a second-half comeback at Ohio State.
The Hoosiers are also slated to return a 6-4 target in Miles Marshall, who now has a full year as a starter under his belt. Plus, they are adding another senior, D.J. Matthews from Florida State. He’s a former U.S. Army All-American and top-50 national recruit who brings some of the speed and elusiveness Philyor provided in the slot.
Fryfogle’s return just rounds out a full complement of weapons for Penix, who is recovering from a season-ending ACL injury. Penix should also have a veteran running back in Stevie Scott and tight end in Peyton Hendershot. IU is also slated to bring back most, if not all, of its offensive line, depending on senior center Harry Crider’s ultimate decision.
In the aftermath of a 26-20 loss to Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl, a whole swath of seniors have decided to return for 2021. Most of those returnees have been on the defensive side, including secondary pieces Marcelino Ball and Raheem Layne. Both missed the 2020 season in full because of injuries. Ball tore his ACL in fall camp.
IU is also returning defensive end Mike Ziemba, offensive guard Mackenzie Nworah, kickoff specialist Jared Smolar, and tight end Kham Taylor.
Fryfogle, who was named a third-team All-American by the Associated Press in 2020, was just the biggest name the Hoosiers were waiting on, along with first-team All-Big Ten defensive tackle Jerome Johnson.
“It’s not a threat, it’s a promise,” Fryfogle tweeted Friday night, along with his statement, “I’m coming back on my worst behavior.”
If Fryfogle’s trend line continues, it could spell trouble for opposing secondaries. After hauling in just one catch for 13 yards in that lost true-freshman season, Fryfogle steadily improved with 381 yards and 604 yards in his sophomore and junior campaigns, respectively. He had three touchdowns apiece in 2018 and ’19.
He doubled his outputs as a senior, giving him 1,719 yards and 13 touchdowns for his career. He’s just 323 short of tying Cody Latimer for 10th all-time in receiving yards. Fryfogle would need 1,021 yards to tie James Hardy for IU’s all-time record.
Another good year could also boost Fryfogle’s stock in the eyes of NFL talent evaluators. While he has a propensity for coming down with 50-50 balls, Fryfogle could stand to separate more often from opposing corners. A lack of separation is why he tends to find himself in jump-ball scenarios so often.
Heard, who initially recruited Fryfogle to Ole Miss, just wanted the 6-2 receiver to run a 4.6-second 40-yard dash during an official visit to Oxford, and he’d offer him a scholarship. Fryfogle did that, and Heard recruited him to IU after switching jobs. It’s all worked out, even when it came to that redshirt year Fryfogle never took in 2017.
He’s getting an extra year, anyway.
“I feel like, over these past four years, I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at, getting better each year,” Fryfogle said in December. “I feel like I’ve elevated my game, but I still have a long way to go.”