Indiana State Football's Sad State
But decay and deterioration hit. Neglect, too. That was the worst part. You're supposed to replace the stuff every 10 years. They didn't, and in the 1980s, it got hard. It was something to overcome, a badge of courage. And the teams won big.
"I still have marks all over my body from it," Trent Miles, the current head coach and former player from those glory days said after Wednesday's practice.
He rolled up the outside of his shorts to show a big burn mark.
The turf lived on for years, but the program did not. Indiana State is now the worst college football team in the country. The. Worst.
Its 28-0 loss at Youngstown State on Saturday ran its losing streak to 31 games. Before that, it won one game, which ended a 24-game slump.
Among Division I programs, only Prairie View's 80 straight losses, mostly through the 1990s, Columbia's 44 and Northwestern's 34 have been worse.
In fact, Indiana State was so desperate to break the streak that it paid tiny Quincy of Illinois to come in for the season opener. Students rallied to see the streak end -- usually about 1,500 fans show up; this time, it was 7,000 -- and the Sycamores jumped ahead 17-0. At halftime, Miles couldn't believe what he saw: his team looked defeated.
The coaches tried to pump up the players. It was hopeless. They lost in overtime, after fumbling near the goal line late.
"They don't know how to win," Miles said.
The fans aren't coming back.
Miles, 46, was a ball boy at Indiana State in the 1970s with current Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Miles' father went to school at Indiana State, and so did his brother.
He played receiver in the 1980s, and then went on to a successful college coaching career, mostly working with receivers, at several places, including Notre Dame under Ty Willingham. He was still with Willingham at Washington when Indiana State called and asked him to come home.
"I had a real good job," he said. "But I wanted to fix this."
This is his second year. He's 0-17.
How do you make losers believe that they're winners? That's the immediate task. He already has run off 41 players, retooled mostly with freshman and sophomores. Only four players, Miles said, have ever won a college football game. Imagine.
Miles put in all sorts of new rules. Players must sit in the front row in class. No iPods in class. No cellphones. Pull up your pants. Show up on time. Players must perform three acts of community service per semester, such as reading to kids or visiting kids in hospitals.
"We blew this program up," Miles said. "I've got good vision. I can see the future."
Unfortunately, this program is living with both feet stuck in the past like cleats in the open seams on the old turf. But at least it's searching for light instead of assuming there isn't any.
That old AstroTurf had gotten dangerous. And the Memorial Stadium lights, which were mostly burned out, were yellow. The locker room looked like something from a 1960s YMCA, with 50 years of wear. It's all being renovated now. Finally.
So Miles took me on a tour after practice Wednesday. The team is still moving from old digs to new, trying to move to the future. "This was the coaches' locker room," he said in a dark, tiny space with a small table.
"This was the players' locker room. Here's the shower. It doesn't drain well so the standing water gets this high."
He held his hand to his waist. "If you're not one of the first ones in there ..."
I'll bet it wasn't like that when you played.
"Yes it was," he said. "They just never did anything to it.
"Here's the toilets. No doors. Military style."
We went down the hall.
"Here's the equipment room. Notice the duct tape holding the shelves together."
That still is the equipment room.
"We had no laundry room, so they did laundry in a meeting room. We actually had meetings in our laundry room."
He opened the door to the new laundry room. And then to the new equipment room, which is going to have "a belt coming around with clothes on it, like in a dry cleaners. Not a closet with a bunch of shelves in it."
The new locker room has those nice big wooden lockers like pro locker rooms. It has two 50-inch flat TVs, compliments of former players and donors.
"They gave me the money," he said, "and I went and bought them."
There's a folksiness to this place, and not just from the ancient-looking Dairy Queen on Wabash street near the stadium.
An assistant coach knocked on Miles' door. Apparently, Miles' wife was taking their 4-year-old to see the Wizard of Oz at a local theater. Miles was supposed to babysit their two younger kids, but told the assistant to fill in for a few minutes.
"It's OK," Miles said. "He's their godfather."
Back to the Astroturf. Even after Miles' playing days were over, they still didn't replace the stuff. The coach's recruiting budget was cut from over $50,000 a year to $13,000. They team started traveling by bus. It became impossible to overcome, as its peers built new facilities.
The more that turf wore down, the more it defined a program. It wasn't until 2000 that the school finally gave in and bought a new turf. But it tried to install on the cheap, and put it in wrong. The seams ripped apart and strips came up. Coaches used to take hammer and nails to practice.
Still, little gaps formed around the field, and last year, freshman linebacker Aaron Archie stepped in one and blew out his knee.
"My body went this way and my leg went that way," he said Wednesday. "But I'm 100 percent now. More than 100 percent."
That's the funny thing. In talking with several players, they seem more hopeful than anything. It has to do with the changes, including purging all the trouble players.
Miles said that many of them would show for weightlifting, sign in and leave. Many wouldn't go to class. Last year's quarterback was Tasered by police.
"You've got to get that cancer out of your body," Archie said. "You can't have that."
Senior defensive end Dan Millington, who grew up in Terre Haute, said he has never felt anything but proud to play for Indiana State. Second-year quarterback Travis Johnson said, "It's coming. Everybody can feel it."
There once were glory days here in sports. Larry Bird played here, and then football was good, and then baseball.
Now, new offensive coordinator Troy Walters, a former NFL receiver, said "When I was with the Colts, coach [Tony] Dungy always said 'Keep pounding the rock. Keep pounding the rock. You never know when it's going to break.' "
This year, they put in a beautiful $750,000 FieldTurf. Miles credited school president Daniel Bradley and other school officials at least a half-dozen times. And the recruiting budget has been raised, but Miles wouldn't specify by how much.
The bulbs in the stadium lights have been replaced, too. Last year, they nearly won, but then lost after a Hail Mary with Indiana State fans already running on the field to celebrate. In the past 11 quarters, they have been outscored 99-3.
You wanted a happy ending? They're doing the right things, but years of neglect can't just be torn up and thrown away like an old worn carpet.
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