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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chappell right at home at Indiana
What you see is what you get with Bloomington native, Hoosier starting QB

By Dustin Dopirak 331-4227 |
August 29, 2010

Indiana's Ben Chappell, a former standout on the Bloomington South football and basketball teams, is beginning his second season as the Hoosiers' starting quarterback. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

The question doesn’t seem that difficult, but no one seems to be able to come up with an answer.

What about Ben Chappell does Bloomington not already know?

The Indiana fifth-year senior has lived all but the first few months of his life here, and he’s spent a significant chunk of his 23 years in some of the more glamorous positions attainable for a young Bloomington athlete. He was the starting quarterback on Bloomington South’s football team for two-plus years and the starting center on its basketball team for three before moving up town to IU, where he’s heading into his second year as the full-time starting quarterback.

And yet in all that time in the hometown spotlight, it seems that everything that has been learned about him has fallen in the same impossibly straight lines. Bloomington knows that he’s a good-natured, smart, humble kid who stays out of trouble. That he’s a heady quarterback without a lot of speed, but a live arm. That he was a good all-around athlete and a great leader in high school, and that he’s becoming a great leader at IU now.

“He’s a golden boy,” said Drew Wood, his former football coach at South.

But doesn’t there have to be more to it than that? Doesn’t he have to have some secrets? Not necessarily deep and dark ones, but maybe just a personality quirk or meaningful anecdote known only to he and his family and friends? Isn’t there any interesting information about his life’s journey that hasn’t already made its way around town?

Perhaps, but Chappell himself couldn’t come up with much. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound redhead widened his eyes, pushed out a deep breath, shook his head and laughed when asked the question.

“Man,” he said, totally stumped. “There might not be (anything). I don’t know.”

Eventually, he mentioned his deep love for golf, but admitted that’s not that deep a secret, especially for anyone who plays Cascades.

But perhaps that’s just Chappell being his unfailingly modest and cautious self. Surely, his parents would have something new to add to the narrative, right?

There wasn’t much there either. His father Steve also pointed to Ben’s golf game as well as his closeness with family and friends. His mother Laura said Ben likes baby back ribs, onions and trips to Georgia to see her family and the beach but admitted there wasn’t a lot else.

“He’s pretty much an open book,” she said.

At least Tyson Weaver, who played football with Chappell at South and rooms with him at IU, had something worth a laugh.

“If you’re looking for something funny, it’s that he’s a terrible dancer,” Weaver said. “That would be the one thing. The kid’s got no rhythm whatsoever when he’s not on the football field.”

But other than that, Weaver said, the story of Ben Chappell is exactly what you’ve always heard it is.

“He’s the kid that every parent dreamed of having,” Weaver said. “That All-American boy. He’s the guy everyone looks up to, and he sets the standard for everything. He’s a role model for his friends. . He doesn’t keep anything in the closet. It’s all out there. Everyone who knows Ben Chappell knows what he’s about.”

It really is just that simple.

Success never slumps
Chappell has, more or less, always done what he was supposed to do, and his resume reflects it. There aren’t any epiphanies, turning points or plot twists. Virtually no drama. Just a string of achievements.

He’s been a star athlete since pitching and playing shortstop on his little league baseball team. He started playing football in fourth grade, when he had to play center because he was above the weight limit for ball carriers. Two years later he started playing quarterback and hasn’t moved since.

He was a three-year starter in high school, though the first year was cut short by a broken collarbone, and was named all-state as a senior. In the meantime, he was a three-year starter at center on the South basketball team, which reached the semistate in his senior year. He graduated high school with a 4.0 grade point average.

College has been the same. He’s already graduated from the prestigious Kelley School of Business with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a 3.7 GPA. He’s taking classes toward his master’s this year as he enters his senior football season as the leading returning passer in the Big Ten.

“He’s that kid growing up that’s done everything right all the time,” IU tight end Brad Martin said.

And yet somehow, remained stunningly well-adjusted.

Chappell himself has developed no sense of entitlement or arrogance in all that time as a “golden boy.” He’s unfailingly polite and self-deprecating. His insistence on diverting attention to teammates and coaches in interviews would be unnerving if it wasn’t so genuine.

He hasn’t lived like a monk at IU, but whatever social life he has on Saturday night doesn’t keep him from making it to church on Sunday. And he’s kept close ties to those he grew up with, still keeping in touch with his former teammates, coaches and teachers. Every home game, there are hundreds of people he knows in the stands. His kindergarten teacher still attends his parents’ tailgates.

“No one’s perfect by any means,” Weaver said. “But he’s done everything right as far as putting yourself on the right position at all times and just to make sure you don’t get caught up in the riff-raff and all the things kids get involved with. . And he’s stayed true to his roots. No matter how popular or big his name’s gotten, he’s never gotten a big head over his celebrity status.”

What’s kept him on the straight and narrow? That question has a pretty simple answer, too.

“His mom taught him that,” Wood said. “If he even started to sniff like he was going to be cocky, his mom would call him out on it. His dad, Steve, too. They’re top notch.”

Said Chappell: “It definitely all comes down to my parents, and the way I was raised. My mom is awesome, and she’s such a good person. She taught me how to be a good person and to treat people with respect. My dad taught me how to work hard and support family, and I think definitely the way I’ve been is a direct reflection of the way I was raised by my parents.”

Steve, a salesman and former baseball player at Kentucky, and Laura, who works at Childs Elementary School, also succeeded in parenting through balance, keeping Chappell disciplined without being disciplinarians. They were never ultra-strict or overbearing but made sure he got the point.

“He’s been drilled from Day 1 that whatever he does, he represents first himself,” Laura said. “He represents his family, his God, he represents his school and he represents his team.”

Team leader
Team has always been a driving force for Chappell as well. He grew up playing football and basketball with mostly the same tight-knit group of South kids and came to realize early how much he depended on everyone else. That’s why he doesn’t let any interview stay focused on him. Every positive offensive possession requires the work of 11 guys.

Sometimes, though, he can be a tad too deferential, and if there was a critique of Chappell last season, it was that he was never quite completely in control. It wasn’t that his teammates didn’t listen to him, but that his comfort level with his position wasn’t absolute because it was his first year as the starter after splitting time with the departed Kellen Lewis the season before. He still threw for 2,941 yards and 17 touchdowns, but after a 4-8 campaign, he went into the offseason feeling like he could’ve done more to get IU back to a bowl for the first time since his redshirt freshman season.

So far this year, though, that hasn’t been a problem. Since the spring, players and coaches have seen a change in the way he commands the offense. He was recently named captain by winning a team election in overwhelming fashion.

“He’s really taken over the football team,” Indiana coach Bill Lynch said. “In the spring, to me, he was a different guy in the spring. You use the expression that it became slow-motion to him, or the game slowed down. You could just tell that he was out there, and he’s at the point where he can tell the tackle what to do, he can tell the left guard what to do, he can tell the wideouts, ‘Cheat your split end, go out.’ He can tell the back, ‘They’re going to blitz here, here’s your protection.’ Now all the sudden, you talk about trust, he’s got teammates that trust him, because they know he knows.”

Chappell’s made vast improvements physically and mentally. His understanding of the playbook has always been strong, and now he knows it cold. His throws are sharper than ever before, and he seems to be able to make all of them now, hitting receivers on the hands on out routes, in the chest on slants and perfectly over the shoulder on deep balls.

“He’s got every throw in the bag,” IU offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “He’s making throws that people on Sunday are going to want him to make.”

There’s been talk recently about Chappell playing on Sundays. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., for instance, called him IU’s most draftable player.

But Chappell doesn’t talk about that much. He’s obviously set himself up well if a pro career never happens, and his focus of the moment is still Saturdays and trying to lead IU back to a bowl berth.

That’s what the rest of the Hoosiers are looking to him for.

“This year, he’s become that complete quarterback, complete leader,” Martin said. “He’s a lot more vocal, we all respect him. He’s just taken over the leadership role completely now. Last year, yeah, we all followed him, but this year, he tells us what to do and we all do it. We all respect him.”

Because like the rest of Bloomington they all know his story. There isn’t a lot of drama to it, but that doesn’t matter.

He’s Ben Chappell. The All-American boy. The one everyone looks up to.

Copyright: 2010

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