Indiana running backs coach Deland McCullough can still remember the way Indiana running back Devine Redding moved during camp as a high school sophomore -- the way he changed direction on the turf, the power emanating behind his thick legs, how he ran routes as if he were a receiver.
McCullough’s first thought? “He’s one of the best guys we’ve ever had in camp.”
His second? “To be completely honest, that we wouldn’t get him.”
Now, five years after that camp, Redding is preparing to follow in the footsteps of two Hoosiers greats -- Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard, both now in the NFL -- and to carve out his own legacy. That skinny high schooler who impressed McCullough can become the first Hoosiers player in 25 years (Vaughn Dunbar, 1990-91) to record back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons.
“That’s one thing I’d love to say; that’s one feeling I’d love to get,” said Redding, who rushed for 1,012 yards last season as a sophomore. “Just to be a part of something like that.”
Redding’s potential path to the record books, to opportunity, was far from a likely one. The Youngstown, Ohio, native initially attended Mineral Ridge High School, a small school that was virtually unknown in recruiting circles. He then moved to powerhouse Cleveland Glenville for his senior season but was forced to sit out five games due to transfer rules.
Other college coaches were turned off by his slow 40-yard dash time -- he clocked a 4.75 at a Nike camp -- but McCullough and the Hoosiers knew he was faster in pads. Redding’s high school coach tried to tell others his work ethic and vision weren’t confined to a stopwatch, but few listened. Redding had just a single scholarship offer, from Indiana, when he committed.
“Sometimes you miss like that because you think it’s all about the 40 and things like that,” Glenville coach Ted Ginn Sr. said. “He’s just a natural back to me, and I just never understood it.”
Added McCullough: “I think it’s one of those things. A bunch of people missed -- and that’s good for us.”
McCullough and Ginn both believe that slight has stuck with Redding. But it’s not something he needs to focus on; it’s a part of him.
Every morning, before he brushes his teeth, Redding flips on a light and reads a piece of loose-leaf paper sitting by his window sill. There are no mentions of the schools that overlooked him, nor the recruiting services who took him for granted. Instead, three goals are hastily scrawled on the paper – two football goals and a life goal. (“Be happy.”)
He declined to share those football goals. But he wants more than 1,000 yards. He’s aiming for a better bowl. And he’s working toward respect.
“I just go out there and do my thing,” he said. “I don’t feel a lot of pressure because I know what I’m capable of.”
He’s gotten this far with outsiders underestimating him. So he doesn’t much care what their expectations are. Scouts wrote that Redding would need a redshirt year to develop; he then helped upset No. 18 Missouri with 49 rushing yards as a freshman. When Redding averaged less than 3 yards a carry in the first half of his sophomore season, he emerged by averaging nearly 6 yards in the second half.
“He came on very, very strong within the last year,” coach Kevin Wilson said. “Really settled down, played within himself, and he’s doing well.”
Through ice packs and bruises, he has never missed a practice. He spent extra time in the film room this offseason, trying to improve his overall timing. And he has tried to help coach up the younger backs, much like Coleman and Howard did with him.
Five years ago, no one except Indiana believed in Redding. Three years ago, few believed in an Indiana running game that hadn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher in a decade. A lot has changed since then.
Redding has come a long way, from an under-the-radar recruit to a Hoosiers running back on the cusp of history. But he’s not ready to settle, not just yet.
“When I got 1,000 yards, I wasn’t like, ‘All right, I got it,’” he said. “I felt more motivation. I want to get more.”