Jason Spriggs never got a chance to ease into his college career.
Indiana opened the 2012 season with Spriggs as its starting left tackle. Never mind that the true freshmen weighed a listed 268 pounds and had played tight end the year before in high school. Welcome to the show, kid.
Five weeks into that season, the Hoosiers played Michigan State and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks. Spriggs' assignment was to contain the Spartans' William Gholston and the Buckeyes' John Simon, both of whom would go in the fourth round of the NFL draft the following spring.
"To go and do that as an 18-year-old, and to have some success, that was pretty impressive," Indiana offensive line coach Greg Frey said.
Spriggs not only survived that baptism by fire, he more than proved himself in the process. And now, entering his senior season with the Hoosiers, he's one of the most experienced and dependable offensive linemen in the Big Ten.
He has started 34 out of a possible 35 games at left tackle during his career, and he's now listed at a sturdier 305 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame. Asked how far he's come since those freshman days, Spriggs says simply, "leaps and bounds."
According to Indiana, Spriggs allowed just two sacks in 689 snaps in 2014. The team's normally potent passing game fell off a cliff after quarterback Nate Sudfeld's midseason shoulder injury, but Spriggs and the offensive line helped pave the way for Tevin Coleman's school-record 2,036-yard campaign.
"In hindsight for Jason, it's going to be a blessing," Frey said of the run-heavy attack. "His strong suit was always pass protection, and we had to take him and say, 'OK, let's get you into run blocking.' So this spring, what you're seeing from him is a little bit lower pad level and more confidence. It's been fun to watch."
Coleman eventually earned national accolades for his performance last year, but few people outside of Bloomington noticed the job that the IU offensive line -- which has been one of the Big Ten's most underrated units for a while now -- did in opening some daylight. Spriggs doesn't mind.
"Tevin gave us our due, and it's nothing that we expect," he said. "We don't really look for recognition."
The Elkhart, Indiana native didn't draw major recognition on the recruiting trail. Most of his offers came from MAC schools, though he said Penn State showed some interest before he committed to Indiana the summer before his senior year. Frey and the Hoosiers prefer lean, athletic linemen who can keep pace in their no-huddle spread offense, and they saw in Spriggs who excelled in basketball, lacrosse and track and field as well as football.
That athleticism hasn't gone away as Spriggs has gotten bigger and stronger. Check out these workout numbers that head coach Kevin Wilson tweeted out last week:
#iufb OT Jason Spriggs #'s Are NFL Combine Top of the Charts - 40: 4.82 / Vertical: 37.5" / Bench: 455 / 225 Bench: 33 Reps / Clean 365 etc.— Kevin Wilson (@IUCoachWilson) March 26, 2015
Frey said Spriggs compares favorably to former Michigan All-America left tackle Taylor Lewan, whom Frey coached early in Lewan's career. Last year alone, Spriggs squared off with such pass-rushing behemoths as Missouri's Shane Ray, Ohio State's Joey Bosa and Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun. And he continued to stand his ground against the best the opposition had to offer.
"He's been able to hold down that position and do some really nice things here," Frey said. "And I still think there's a lot ahead of him as he matures. He's still got some development left, so that's the encouraging part."
Spriggs is excited to have Sudfeld back at quarterback and for the Hoosiers to rev up their passing game once more. He and guard Dan Feeney -- who also started as a true freshman back in 2012 -- are leading an offensive line that is working in a couple of redshirt freshmen (Tim Gardner and Wes Martin) into the mix this spring.
Another solid season could make Spriggs an intriguing NFL prospect. But he's more interested right now in helping get Indiana to a bowl game for the first time in his four years.
"I'm on bettering myself as much as I can, tying off my career here and getting as far as we can this season," he said.
He's already come a long way himself.