Like it or not, Indiana University is a basketball school. When people think Hoosiers, they think of Gene Hackman as Norman Dale; Hickory High School and Jimmy Chitwood.
When people think of Indiana, they think of Assembly Hall before they think of Memorial Stadium. And that’s the disadvantage that head football coach Kevin Wilson is at. Much like at schools such as Kentucky and Kansas, basketball is such a draw that the football team is overshadowed and suffers as a result.
That’s not to say the Hoosiers haven’t been competitive under Wilson, because they did get to a bowl game last year, losing in the Pinstripe Bowl. It was Indiana’s first bowl game in the Wilson era, though, and he’s been the head coach since 2011.
Indiana’s struggles on the field combined with the football team’s lack of relevance when compared to basketball has hurt the Hoosiers in more ways than one. Notably, Wilson has struggled to eclipse the average mark as a recruiter, though some good football players have come through Bloomington in his time.
Notably in 2015, star running back Tevin Coleman entered the NFL as a third round pick by the Atlanta Falcons. He had a good rookie year and has been a part of an impressive Falcons’ backfield in 2016. This past draft, the Green Bay Packers took Indiana offensive tackle Jason Spriggs in the second round.
Coleman was part of Indiana’s 2012 class. He was a three-star running back, ranked as the No. 36 running back in his class, according to 247Sports. Spriggs was also part of that class, but he was actually ranked as a tight end at that point. 247Sports ranked Spriggs as a three-star tight end, ranked No. 37 nationally. Quarterback Nate Sudfield was another notable member of that 2012 class, and he went on to have a good career at Indiana and was drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL draft
The 2012 class was arguably Indiana’s best in a long while, and it was ranked No. 57 nationally and No. 11 in the Big Ten. The 2013 class was ranked No. 42 nationally (8th in Big Ten), 2014 was ranked No. 48 (9th in Big Ten), 2015 was No. 52 (9th in Big Ten) and 2016’s class was ranked No. 55 nationally (11th in Big Ten).
Average would be the best way to describe Indiana recruiting, and that’s from a national perspective. In the Big Ten, the Hoosiers have been among the worst recruiting schools in the conference.
Though the rankings may not be impressive, Indiana proved with players like Coleman, Spriggs and Sudfield that it can produce elite players. If the Hoosiers can do that more often than not, perhaps they can start overcoming the talent gap with the rest of the Big Ten and eventually the perception gap, and in the 2017 there is one player who undoubtedly has the talent to follow in the shoes of the aforementioned Hoosier stars.
Kurt Rafdal is a three-star tight end from Carmel, Ind. (Carmel), and he’s the Hoosiers’ top-ranked 2017 recruit. He’s an impressive 6-foot-7, 230 pounds — which is elite size for a tight end not even in his freshman year of college yet — and he’s ranked as the No. 29 tight end in the 2017 class, according to the industry generated 247Sports Composite rankings.
The tight end class is deep this cycle, and Rafdal is in the middle of a very impressive bunch. Five-star Stanford commit Colby Parkinson leads the way for 2017 tight ends, but nine other tight ends have been given four-star marks and Rafdal is among a group of impressive three-star recruits. Schools such as Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Louisville, Washington and Arizona State all have tight end commitments slotted right around Rafdal in the rankings, so he’s among good company.
It’s also important to note Rafdal’s in-state ranking.
With in-state recruiting being as important as it is and Indiana football already at a disadvantage, it’s vital for the Hoosiers to land every in-state recruit possible. Unfortunately for Wilson and his staff, of the top 10 players in the state, only three are Hoosiers. Rafdal is ranked No. 6 in the state and is joined by three-star athlete Bryan Fitzgerald (No. 7) and three-star defensive tackle LeShaun Minor (No. 10).
Clemson, Notre Dame, Louisville and Missouri have all stolen top five players from the state.
Rankings aside, Rafdal brings a ton of potential to the table for Indiana. In fact, he very well may outplay his three-star ranking while in Bloomington.
His height and length are a huge advantage, and Indiana would be wise to use that to its advantage, especially in the red zone or in jump-ball scenarios. With that said, Rafdal does appear to have good hands and solid route-running for a tight end. His size and frame also mean that he can be a good in-line blocker for Indiana in the run game.
If Rafdal improves his foot speed and adds a bit more vertical threat to his game, look for him to become a nice player for the Hoosiers. All-in-all, he has the potential to be a complete Big Ten tight end.