One of the first things Indiana players usually hear when they reach the practice field is Tegray Scales' voice.
The senior linebacker often likes to swipe the microphone coaches use to bark instructions. Scales doesn't plan what he's going to say beforehand. Some days he might lead a cheer. Other times, he'll crack on a teammate or challenge someone to a wrestling match.
"We practice early, and sometimes it's kind of dead or people are still asleep," Scales said. "So I'll get on the microphone and start talking a lot of smack. I try to spice things up a little bit."
Only a player whom other guys respect could get away with that sort of thing on a regular basis. Good thing Scales' performance on the field is so loud that no microphone is needed.
He led the nation in tackles for loss last year, with 23.5. He also finished 15th in the FBS –- and first in the Big Ten –- with 126 total tackles. That earned Scales second-team All-America recognition from SI.com, making him the first Hoosiers linebacker since 1987 to win any kind of All-American distinction.
Still, he might be the best defensive player that most of the country knows nothing about. If he put up those kinds of numbers in, say, the SEC, he might be talked about as a Heisman Trophy candidate. But he did it in the relative football outpost of Bloomington.
"I go to a school that's not fully established yet," he said. "We're still trying to break through. So I'm not going to get as recognized as much as other people would if they had the same season I had. It's one of those deals where you have to keep your head down and keep working."
And that work will continue at Indiana this spring and fall. While two of his teammates -- fellow linebacker Marcus Oliver and running back Devine Redding -- chose to forego their eligibility and enter the NFL draft, Scales decided to come back to school. He submitted his paperwork to the league's underclassman advisory board and heard concerns about his size (he says he's currently at 228 pounds on his listed 6-foot frame) and his ability to shed blocks at the next level.
So he opted to work on those things at Indiana, which provided an enormous lift for first-year head coach Tom Allen.
"He was the catalyst for our defense, not only on the field in his production, but really in the very beginning, when I got here," Allen said the day Scales announced his decision. "I challenged our team to make changes in their mentality and the way they prepared. He's been bought in from Day 1."
That Scales ever suited up for the Hoosiers at all was a mild surprise, given that the Cincinnati native out of Colerain High School had offers from programs such as Oklahoma, Louisville, Wisconsin and West Virginia. He liked the idea of staying close to home so his many cousins and nieces and nephews could watch him play. He also figured he could see the field right away, which he did en route to earning freshman All-America honors.
"I knew coming to Indiana that I had a chance of coming in and playing early, and I knew we were going to play against some top teams," he said. "I wanted to make a difference, make a change."
He led that effort last year as the Hoosiers' defense, which had been one of the worst in the country for several years, vaulted to 45th nationally. As a sideline-to-sideline presence, Scales perfectly fit Allen's 4-2-5 scheme that allows linebackers and safeties to run downhill and make plays. But the defense didn't funnel ball carriers specifically toward Scales.
"Not a lot, no," co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach William Inge siad. "It just ends up where he's in the right place at the right times and doing the right things. I would say it's more his preparation, his attention to detail and the will and desire to be the best.
"He's exactly what you want."
Scales likes to have fun before practice (pro tip: don't accept his wrestling challenges, as he was one of the top high school wrestlers in Ohio), but he's also become a serious leader for the Hoosiers.
"He's the lion in the room," Inge says.
That lion roars on the microphone in the mornings. If he continues to do so on the field on Saturdays, perhaps more national recognition will follow.
"It's one of those 'If they don't know, they're going to find out' types of deals," Scales said. "So I'm going to keep bringing it."