Griffin Oakes stood on the Hoosiers’ sideline through eight of Indiana University’s 12 games last football season.
Oakes’ game pants, crimson home jersey and helmet, concluded each game the way they began — entirely void of scuff marks and perspiration stains.
And yet the former Greenwood Community High School player claims he couldn’t have possibly picked a better instructional guide for kickers than the west end of Memorial Stadium.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Oakes, who as a redshirt was ineligible for competition and didn’t travel to the Hoosiers’ four road contests. “Just to be able to watch a guy like Mitch (Ewald) and not have that pressure on your shoulders was great.”
Much has transpired since IU’s season-ending 56-36 dismantling of arch-rival Purdue in last November’s Old Oaken Bucket battle.
The trustworthy Ewald, who converted 9 of 11 field goal attempts and all 56 of his point-after kicks last season and accumulated 320 points over his career, has graduated.
This, combined with Oakes being eligible, has flung the door of opportunity wide open.
Oakes is presently second on the Hoosiers’ depth chart behind fellow redshirt freshman Aaron Del Grosso for both kickoffs and all point-producing kicks.
Preseason practices begin in early August, which grants Oakes a narrow window to elevate himself to first team before the Aug. 30 opener against visiting Indiana State.
As of now, Del Grosso, a product of Hobart High School, enjoys the upper hand (or is it foot?).
“It’s a competitive situation to see who replaces Mitch,” said Hoosiers’ tight ends coach and offensive recruiting coordinator James Patton, who also counts working with kickers as part of his job description. “Aaron is a little ahead of Grif right now. He has probably a little stronger leg.
“But Grif works hard and is just a great kid.”
Oakes is one of three one-time Johnson County football standouts on IU’s roster, the others being senior receiver Nick Stoner (Center Grove) and junior tight end Jordan Jackson (Indian Creek).
Having spent much of his first year on campus in the weightroom, the 5-foot-11 Oakes, who weighed roughly 190 pounds as a Greenwood senior, got as high as 205 pounds.
“I’ve put on a significant amount of muscle and feel much more athletic,” said Oakes, who split the uprights on 8 of 12 field goal tries and 51 of 53 extra-point kicks for a 9-2 Woodmen squad in 2012. “Honestly, I think it’s helped me because I’ve become a lot more flexible since I’ve been here.”
Last August, Oakes experienced a pop in his right ankle while kicking during preseason camp.
Working through occasional episodes of curiosity and doubt curtailed Oakes’ progress somewhat, though he now claims to be back to form.
A significant percentage of Oakes’ learning curve includes Ewald, who is currently in the process of trying to make a National Football League roster.
Ewald himself redshirted in 2009 before going on to make good on an astounding 80 percent of his career field goal opportunities (53 of 66) at IU.
He’s walked in Oakes’ shoes (cleats). Oakes, meanwhile, would love nothing more than to follow Ewald’s example of persistence.
“Mitch is a great guy. One of the best people I know. As a senior he was willing to help with freshmen who weren’t even going to play, so I did what I could while he was here,” Oakes said.
“One of the big things he taught me was having muscle memory. Mitch drilled that into your head and that it was more about the quality of your kicks than it was the quantity.”
Oakes, after a season of inactivity, remains hopeful the former in time leads to the latter.