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The rise of Ben Chappell

by Jeremy Gray

At the press conference following the Illinois game, head coach Bill Lynch extolled the virtues of his quarterback Ben Chappell.

"He is a smart football player who is one of the few quarterbacks I have been around who sees it. Ben can come off the field after a play or a series and tell you exactly what he saw. You can't see it on the sideline, because there are so many bodies in the way. When you turn the tape on Sunday, what he told you he saw is what happened. Ben is a unique quarterback who can do that."

Chappell photo

Photo by Aaron Bernstein

Quarterback Ben Chappell

High praise indeed, but the truth is Bill Lynch has been sold on Ben Chappell for a long time. In his freshman season, Chappell subbed in for an injured Kellen Lewis against Northwestern. Knowing that the freshman was entering the game in a high pressure situation, Lynch let Chappell pick a play that he felt comfortable with. Chappell called the play in the huddle, went to the line, and he dropped back to pass. He wheeled and fired a pass to the left side of the field. It was a perfect spiral, but it landed in the hands of a Northwestern Wildcat who proceeded to sprint down the field for a game changing touchdown.

The following year, Chappell battled Kellen Lewis for the starting job. Many fans continued to reflect on that unfortunate interception. When asked about his sophomore signal caller, Lynch was adamant that Chappell could make all the throws, understood the offense and had the respect of his teammates.

Chappell ended up winning the job midway through the season, but many doubters remained unconvinced. As the injuries mounted, the Hoosiers incurred some tough losses. A second straight bowl appearance was out of reach, but Lynch remained confident in Chappell's abilities. His faith was validated as Chappell led Indiana to a shocking victory over the same ranked Northwestern team that had picked him off the year before.

Entering the 2009 campaign, there was no doubt who would be the starting quarterback for the Hoosiers. This was Ben Chappell's team, and he was charged with the responsibility of making the offense work. So far, so good.

He has proven to be comfortable in the pistol offense, he was unfazed in front of 107,000 fans at the 'Big House', he's completing nearly 65 percent of his passes and rarely makes mistakes, and he broke the back of the Fighting Illini on Homecoming with a spot on deep ball to Tandon Doss.

But to me, the impressive moment of his career came against Virginia. The Hoosiers were flat. They were getting knocked around by the Cavaliers, and Chappell was getting especially well acquainted with the turf in Charlottesville. The Hoosiers' effort was just not there. Chappell knew it, and he was none too happy about it.

After one especially rough series of downs, Chappell tore into his teammates on the sideline. We've seen this happen before, but usually it starts an argument between the quarterback and his teammates. That was not the case on that brutal Saturday. Chappell got into his teammates, and they all intently listened to what he had to say. It was obvious he had their respect. The tirade had no bearing on the game. It was too late. But the next Monday, the Hoosiers had one of their best practices of the year. And the next Saturday, they had one of their best games of the year.

I distinctly remember when Ben Chappell committed to playing football at Indiana. My wife is a teacher at Ben's high school. I casually asked her about what she knew about him. She responded, "I love that kid. He's so smart, and all of the kids like him."

She might have made a poor choice in a life partner, but my wife clearly knew what she was talking about in this case. Chappell carries nearly a 4.0 in accounting. According to Lynch, he possesses a masterful understanding of the game. His teammates clearly respect him. And bonus! He's a darn good football player, too.