TERRE HAUTE —
The hardest kind of player to recruit to a Football Championship Subdivision team is a big defensive tackle.
Most are coveted and hoarded by Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Aside from a few diamonds in the rough that slipped through the recruiting cracks, there are very few massive, run-stuffing defensive tackles in FCS.
Indiana State thought it had mined one of those diamonds when 6-foot-7, 295-pound defensive tackle Jordan Bright was wooed to the Sycamores as part of Trent Miles’ first recruiting class.
“It’s the hardest thing to find — big defensive lineman. Everybody wants those,” Miles said.
But for the majority of Bright’s career at ISU, it’s been more rough than diamonds for the Cincinnati native.
At long last, that’s changed for Bright in his senior season. After sitting out 2011 due to a foot injury, Bright has worked his way into ISU’s starting lineup at defensive tackle. As one might expect, Bright is hard to miss inside the defensive trenches for the Sycamores and his size alone demands attention from opponent’s blockers.
In two games, Bright has four tackles, but two are for a loss, which puts him second behind Aaron Archie in that category.
“Bright’s been doing a great job. It’s his first chance, but he’s taking it seriously and he’s taking working hard to heart,” said senior ISU defensive end Ben Obaseki.
The road to the starting lineup for Bright was rocky. Early in his career, Bright could be seen on the Memorial Stadium steps — punishment for practice gaffes — almost as much as he was seen on the field. Bright’s temper sometimes got the better of him and it caused him to get into occasional on-field confrontations with teammates, but more importantly, it caused him to lose focus.
Regardless of that, playing time also wasn’t going to be easy for Bright to attain. Early in his career, he played behind Dan Millington, and up until this season, he played behind solid starters Rod Hardy and Lawrence Young.
It became a Catch-22 for the frustrated Bright. His desire to find focus was difficult for him knowing there wasn’t playing time to give him the impetus to sharpen it. In his first three seasons, Bright played in just nine games and had two assisted tackles and one solo tackle.
Bright knew he had come to a crossroads midway through his career, even before the injury-marred 2011 season. He felt his future on the ISU team was in jeopardy if he didn’t show Miles that he could mature and accept his role, whatever it happened to be.
“Coach Miles had a thought about me and I knew it would be hard to change his mind, but I kept to it,” Bright said. “We had talks. I told him it was all or nothing. I didn’t want to waste his time and I didn’t want to waste mine.”
Miles acknowledged that Bright had to mature to get his chance with the Sycamores.
“Sometimes it takes others longer to mature. This is the first time he’s turned it on and made the commitment to doing the things he needs to do, totally, to play. He has the size, he has the ability, but it’s been a work in progress to get it out of him and for him to be consistent. We feel he’s turned the corner,” Miles said.
Bright credited his teammates for helping him turn that corner. They provide him with a support system if he senses that he’s letting frustration get the better of him.
“They try to pick me up and I need that. They don’t want me to fall back into what I was doing. I might slip back for a play or something, but I have to think, I can’t let it happen again and just work my hardest on the next play,” Bright said.
So far, Bright’s focus has helped ISU’s run defense improve statistically, at least in the early returns from the first two games. ISU ranks 36th in the nation in FCS as it has allowed 122 rushing yards per game. In 2011, ISU ranked 82nd.
Bright isn’t the sole reason for that improvement, but he’s part of it. And he’s happy he’s finally getting his chance to contribute.
“I didn’t have my head on right. Now I’ve got my chance to play and I’ve been working hard. I keep the same mentality to stay on the field as much as possible. I’m having fun everyday. It wasn’t fun before. Now? I’m having fun with my brothers [teammates],” Bright said.