TERRE HAUTE —
When it comes to giving Indiana State an arm-and-a-leg, it’s hard to beat what Lucas Hileman has done for two different Sycamores’ teams.
Ever the completist, Hileman has already given the ISU football his leg, so he might as well give them his arm too.
Hileman — the preseason All-Missouri Valley Football Conference punter — has put on yet another hat. For the last week-plus, Hileman has been taking part in quarterback drills for the Sycamores with Mike Perish, Robert Tonyan Jr., Trent Lancaster and Travis Johnson.
“We’re training for all scenarios,” ISU coach Trent Miles said.
Hileman has had all manner of scenarios since he enrolled at ISU. He just exhausted his eligibility for Rick Heller’s baseball team after ISU was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. He gave the Sycamores a dependable defensive outfielder with speed and an occasionally dangerous bat.
As far as football is concerned, it’s easy to forget that on this date one year ago, the idea of Hileman strapping on a helmet for the Sycamores’ program would’ve seemed ludicrous.
He then came out of nowhere last September and gave ISU an unexpected weapon at the punter spot — where the Sycamores had previously struggled. Hileman averaged 42.7 yards per punt in 2011 with eight punts over 50 yards and six pinned inside the opponents’ 20. As a result, he became one of the most unlikely preseason All-MVFC picks in recent memory.
So why quarterback? It starts with the fact that Hileman played quarterback in high school and Miles has been impressed with Hileman’s athleticism since he joined the football team.
“He’s a good athlete and he’s probably the best punter in the conference. We’d like to have the ability to throw the ball, both in a punting situation and as an emergency quarterback,” Miles said.
For Hileman, it’s yet another way he feels he can help his team, and by proxy, Sycamore athletics overall.
“Coach approached me and told me the situation. I’m up for anything I can help. I played quarterback in high school, but obviously, its been four years. It’s a slow process. It’s an intricate part of the game and it’s something I’ll continue to get better at,” Hileman said.
But getting Hileman under center is about more than just preparing for a specific scenario at QB or a fake punt. Before Ronnie Fouch solidified the position in 2010, ISU had to twice go to Ryan Roberts to play quarterback after the QBs it hoped to establish didn’t pan out in 2008 (Calvin Schmidtke) and 2009 (Chris Stutzriem).
Perish — a Western Michigan transfer — has been named the team’s starter, but experience is in short supply for the Sycamores. Training Hileman at quarterback gives ISU options, including the possibility that it could redshirt Tonyan, if it so chooses.
“We’ve got young quarterbacks. You’ve got Mike Perish, who’s played Division I ball [at Western Michigan] and Travis [Johnson, a senior], but then you’ve got two freshmen. We don’t ever make a decision [this early] on redshirting, but if we did and didn’t want to waste a kid’s year as an emergency quarterback, it’s Lucas. He has the athleticism to do it,” Miles said.
Meanwhile, Hileman has received high marks for his day job as punter. Miles said the only part of Hileman’s punting game he’d like to see improve is his release time. For his part, Hileman could concentrate on football once ISU’s baseball season ended.
“[A year ago] … I didn’t have the thought I’d be playing football, but I progressed through the season and I have high expectations for myself. I really have a chance to work on my game this offseason and get better. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think I could be one of the best,” Hileman said.