BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The offseason message to Richard Lagow was succinct: Don't be a hero. Just be a quarterback.
Indiana's new offensive coordinator, Mike DeBord, remembers having the same conversation with Brian Griese in 1997, right before Griese led Michigan to the national championship. He gave Tom Brady the same talk in 1998 and pretty much every quarterback he's worked over the past two decades.
If the advice worked for Griese and Brady, Lagow figures he'll give it a shot, too.
"I think what he means by that is throw the ball away or check the ball down," Lagow said Friday. "So it's just being the quarterback and putting your team in the best position to win games."
Lagow knows he didn't always do that last season.Back then, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound quarterback was still trying to prove he could make the jump from junior college star to Big Ten starter. He was learning a new offense, getting in sync with new teammates and adapting to a new campus far away from his Texas roots. Sometimes, the growing pains showed.
After opening the season with strong performances in wins over Florida International and Ball State, he threw five interceptions in a perplexing loss to Wake Forest. He followed that debacle with solid showings against Michigan State and Ohio State before throwing threw two interceptions in three of the next four games.
Lagow finished with solid numbers — 3,362 yards, a completion of percentage of 57.8 percent and 19 touchdowns.
But he and the staff couldn't excuse the 17 interceptions, so instead of a lecture DeBord sat down with his new pupil. The first real test comes Thursday when No. 2 Ohio State visits Bloomington for the nationally televised season opener.
The clock is ticking pic.twitter.com/m3o0ZLcSk0— Indiana Football (@HoosierFootball) August 29, 2017
"What I really tried to talk to him about was that he doesn't have to make plays, he really doesn't. Just take what they give you," DeBord explained. "I've told him you don't have to be hero, just be a quarterback — it's my job to get you into a better play and he's really bought into that."
Lagow has changed in other ways, too.
When new coach Tom Allen challenged each of his players to select one word they wanted to focus on during the offseason, Lagow chose confidence.
As Lagow became more vocal on the field, DeBord gave Lagow more responsibilities. He had a hand in the offense's installation during the offseason, he regularly consults on play calls with DeBord and the two have continued to have those critical conversations.
Allen has been impressed with his new and improved quarterback.
"The biggest thing is that he has the confidence to confront teammates. That's hard to do," Allen said. "I demand the same things out of my linebackers — they have to have the courage and the confidence to confront teammates. The other thing is communication. When you're confident and you know what you can do, you can speak louder and you can speak with more vigor."
At media day, Lagow traded jerseys with tight end Ian Thomas, in part to show Thomas that he would play a prominent role this season. On Monday, he drew laughter after recounting a story about Caleb Jones' recruiting trip.
Finishing Touches pic.twitter.com/I1goiOiwqx— Indiana Football (@HoosierFootball) August 30, 2017
"He's the biggest guy I've ever seen," Lagow said, referring to the 6-foot-8, 370-pound freshman tackle. "I told him he'd have to wait to play until after I was gone because I didn't want to look over that to throw."
If the Hoosiers are going to continue moving up in the Big Ten, Lagow will have to be at his best. After having another year to get comfortable on campus, in the locker room and with the coaching staff, all Lagow has to do now is follow the script.
Notes: Allen announced that quarterback Austin King has decided to transfer. King, a Georgia native, redshirted in 2015, did not play last year and had fallen behind redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey on the depth chart. ... Defensive lineman Omari Stringer will not play this season. Allen said he would remain with the team as a student assistant coach. ... Lagow, left guard Wes Martin, linebacker Tegray Scales and defensive end Greg Gooch will be the captains against Ohio State. ... The biggest surprise on the first depth chart of the season was seeing Donovan Hale win the starting receiver's job over Nick Westbrook. Allen said Hale outplayed Westbrook in camp, though both played well. Westbrook was second on the Hoosiers in receptions (54) and led the Hoosiers with 995 yards and six TDs last season.