BLOOMINGTON — Simon Stepaniak spent his first two years at Indiana in sponge mode.
Basically, the 6-foot-4, 305-pound offensive lineman from Hamilton, Ohio, was learning everything he could from two players in particular who are now playing in the National Football League — Jason Spriggs and Dan Feeney.
Now, Stepaniak hopes it’s his turn to shine.
When the first depth chart was released going into preseason camp, Stepaniak found himself as the starting right guard for the Hoosiers.
He said he feels like he’s ready for the challenge.
“This year I just feel like it is all business,’’ Stepaniak said. “The first two years I was here, it was pretty much learning the ways of college football. I was playing behind Dan Feeney and watching how he attacked the day every day.
“This year I know what I want to do and what I want us to do as a team. This summer I just tried to attack the weights every day, and I feel like I’m ready to go.’’
Stepaniak sat out his first season at IU as a redshirt and last year played in 12 of 13 games. He even had two starts at right guard as Feeney was out with a foot injury.
Now he finds himself as a starter on a young offensive line that does not have a senior starter. Sophomore Coy Cronk is at left tackle, redshirt junior Wes Martin is at left guard, redshirt sophomore Hunter Littlejohn is at center and junior Brandon Knight is at right tackle.
“We’re a young group, but we’ve all had playing time,’’ Stepaniak said. “We’ve also got a lot of younger guys with a big learning curve so it’s going to be an important camp to get everyone on board.
“We’re looking good; we’re looking solid. I’m just excited to get it going.’’
Part of that learning curve is because Indiana has a complete new set of offensive assistants this season under new head coach Tom Allen. That includes offensive line coach Darren Hiller, who comes to the Hoosiers after serving as co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach last season at South Florida.
Stepaniak said there are definitely some differences between the approaches of former offensive line coach Greg Frey and Hiller.
“There are differences, but I feel like I kind of mesh as a player more with Coach Hiller’s style than Coach Frey’s,’’ Stepaniak said. “I just feel like it’s an easier way to learn. I love Coach Hiller. He’s a great dude. I also have a lot of love and respect for Coach Frey, too. I’ve been lucky so far to have had a couple of really good coaches.’’
Hiller has been impressed early on with Stepaniak.
“Simon is a guy who physically is a beast,’’ Hiller said. “He’s a guy who is a lot like Wes Martin in that he’s really strong and he can really bend. His biggest thing is he just hasn’t had a whole lot of experience. But the one thing he has is a great deal of confidence, and I’m really excited to see what he’s able to do for us.’’
Stepaniak may only be a sophomore eligibility wise, but because of what he learned from Spriggs and Feeney he feels like he can now be a mentor for younger players, too. It’s something that is very important to him.
“My focus is to help bring up the younger guys now, now that I’ve learned from a Spriggs or a Dan Feeney,’’ Stepaniak said. “I’m really trying to take what they taught me and help some of the younger guys and maybe take them under my wing and show them what I learned.’’
When Stepaniak was being recruited to Indiana one of the things he liked the most about the program was the fact it had players like Spriggs and Feeney. He called it an O-line legacy with the Hoosiers.
“I just really wanted to be at a school that had guys who really knew what they were doing and had the right mindset,’’ Stepaniak said. “They wanted to get to the same level that I want to get to.
“Picking Indiana was easy because of what I was able to learn from a guy like Dan Feeney. I thank him every day for that.’’