BLOOMINGTON – There’s no doubt rising sophomore Marcelino Ball is the future star of coach Tom Allen’s improving defense. Ball started every game this season at IU’s hybrid “husky” position, earning Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors.
Allen, despite arriving in Bloomington just two weeks prior to last year’s signing day, certainly didn’t expect that type of impact from Ball. But the proper characteristics, Allen said, were there.
Ball’s sudden development begs the question: which signee can make an immediate impact in 2017? As Allen introduced his 23-player class Wednesday, Avon’s Bryant Fitzgerald, who projects as a safety, was singled out.
“If I think of the class, the guy that sticks out to me that is similar is Bryant Fitzgerald,” Allen said. “He’s a guy to me that kind of has that — he’s a football player. He has the same qualities that Marcelino had, that similar mindset. Not quite as big, you know, as ‘Lino’ but that jumps out to me.”
Fitzgerald was an IndyStar Mr. Football position award winner at defensive back, and was first-team all-state in Class 6A. As a senior, he recorded 107 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles to help Avon reach the sectional championship. Offensively, Fitzgerald ran for 814 yards and nine touchdowns en route to being named the fourth-best Indiana prospect by ESPN.
Fitzgerald was a longtime Indiana commit, pledging to the Hoosiers back in January 2016. Almost two months later, West Virginia offered the 6-foot, 200-pound athlete. Once Allen took the reigns of head coach, he knew Fitzgerald was an important player to keep in IU’s 2017 class.
“When I first got here, I told our coaches, we’ve got to hang on to this guy,” Allen said. “He’s going to get a lot of attention, and he did. One of the best, if not the best in all of the state. I think he’s a great player. He played running back, outside linebacker for them. He’s going to be a safety for us, kick returner, just a dynamic football player and also another fine young man that fits those qualities we talked about.”
Fitzgerald joins a secondary that returns starters Ball, Rashard Fant and Jonathan Crawford. In the 2017 class, Allen signed three more defensive backs — including former Southern Cal commit and four-star Juwan Burgess.
Overall, Indiana’s 2017 class is well-rounded and balanced. Allen was able to restock on the defensive line, find a quarterback and even poach an ambidextrous Australian punter. He mentioned Nick Tronti, a Florida quarterback, as another player that shares similar instincts to Ball.
“I think Tronti has that look about him that he is different,” Allen said. “There is a focus and there is a seriousness to it that is different than the average guy.”
Allen recognizes the difficulty of recruiting, and the realization that all 23 players will not contribute as they were expected to.
“All of these guys, they all got a lot to prove,” Allen said. “This is just the beginning. We can all be excited, there is not a coach in America that ain’t excited about his class. They’re all saying all these great things and I get all that, that’s part of the deal. These guys got a lot of hard work ahead of ’em to be able to come and play in the Big Ten and compete for the championships.”