Hale back on field, making plays for IU

Jeremy Hogan | Herald-TimesIU's Donavan Hale (6) during football practice Friday, August 3, 2018 in Bloomington, Ind.

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The knee injury that stole most of last season from Donavan Hale also took his confidence.

But one play in the second scrimmage of fall camp put the redshirt junior receiver back on a path toward finding it.

When backup quarterback Michael Penix fired his fastball into the back of the end zone on that day in mid-August, it wasn't clear that Hale would be able to grab it. Yet there was the 6-foot-4, 229-pound receiver leaping and re-adjusting his body in mid-air to snag the ball with one hand for the touchdown.

It was a revelatory moment for Hale, who in that second remembered what it felt like to be the player he always believed he could be.

His offensive teammates, too, recognized the significance of the catch and sprinted downfield to celebrate and share the excitement.

"I'm capable of making any kind of catch, plays like that," Hale said. "Just to be able to get out there doing it again, and everybody seeing me doing it again, was a good sign."

That moment built confidence for Hale, who carried that self-belief into Saturday's 38-28 season-opening win at Florida International. Two of his four catches went for touchdowns, while his 60 yards led the team.

It was all enough to earn IU's Offensive Player of the Week honor and lay the foundation for what could be his breakout campaign.

"He knows he can make those kinds of plays," IU starting quarterback Peyton Ramsey said. "But to actually put it into action, put it to work, is the source of so much confidence for him."

Hale enjoyed a similar start to last season, when he recorded career highs with five receptions for 67 yards in the loss to Ohio State. The Largo, Fla. native started the first two games, but played in only one more due to an unspecified knee injury that eventually required season-ending surgery.

He missed a lot of time, forcing him to the background and raising questions about just what kind of receiver would be returning this season.

Hale's recovery kept him out of spring practice and it continues to limit him to this day. IU coach Tom Allen said Hale, who received scheduled days off during camp, remains on a "pitch count" during the week to keep him healthy and available for Saturdays.

"The whole objective is that he is full speed on game day," Allen said.

Hale certainly looked the part in Miami. Beyond his two touchdown catches, Hale had another significant reception on IU's final scoring drive of the night.

On first-and-10 at the FIU 38-yard line, Penix unleashed a back-shoulder throw downfield that Hale jumped to pull down for a 34-yard gain.

"We've all been pushing him to make plays like that," offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. "That's what he should be. He should be a playmaker."

For parts of fall camp, Hale was inconsistent during practices. But leading into the season, Allen challenged him to be the player he believes he can be. Allen wants Hale, arguably one of the best athletes on the team, to use his size and speed more to his advantage.

More than anything, Allen wants Hale to believe there's no defensive back in the country that can account for his skill set.

In addition to Allen, Hale credits former Hoosier Simmie Cobbs and receivers coach Grant Heard for helping him mold his game in a positive way.

"The big thing with Simmie, his confidence was through the roof," Hale said. "And he said I just needed to keep my confidence up and believe in myself. That was the big thing when he talked with me, the way he kind of molded me.

“After (listening to) him, Coach Heard and Coach Allen, they really … Coach Heard was obviously the (main) guy boosting my confidence (to have me) just going out on the field and believing nobody could stop me. Ever. No matter who’s in front of me."

That, right there, is confidence Hale and the Hoosiers will lean on.

"I've challenged him about being great at Indiana University," Allen said. "This is an opportunity for him to rise up and take over and be a guy that they cannot cover. That's got to be his mindset."

This article originally ran on heraldtimesonline.com.

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