They were friendly, but not exactly close.
Such was the nature of Michael Penix’s relationship with receiver Ty Fryfogle during the quarterback’s first year and a half on IU’s campus. They got along and they worked well together, but it wasn’t until the past 18 months or so that a true bond began to form. They started hanging out away from the locker room, going places and doing things besides practicing football, to the point where Penix and Fryfogle now seldom do anything without the other nearby.
“We hang out a lot,” Fryfogle said.
So Penix served as equal parts sounding board and confidant for Fryfogle at the end of last fall, as the Big Ten’s best receiver weighed the decision whether to enter the NFL Draft or return to Indiana for a final year. There were good reasons to consider both options, and once Fryfogle made up his mind, Penix was among the first to know.
“He was real honest with me,” Penix said. “He said he wanted to come back, be part of the program, continue to build the program up, and continue to have a connection.”
That connection was among the primary reasons Fryfogle decided to stay in school and build off of a breakout 2020 campaign.
“I feel like we left some stuff on the table,” Fryfogle said. “We got a lot more that we can accomplish.”
For Fryfogle, it won’t be easy topping his list of individual accolades from last fall. Along the way to turning into IU’s first All-American since James Hardy in 2007, Fryfogle posted 112 catches and 1,500 yards during the abbreviated, eight-game season, while becoming the first Hoosier to be named the Big Ten Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year. He also stood out as the first receiver in conference history to record back-to-back 200-yard games and, notably, continued his streak of four straight seasons without a dropped pass of 20 yards or more.
Indeed, his connection with Penix has been a fruitful one.
And yet Fryfogle pictures that partnership yielding even more results with some fine tuning. As spring practice continues, Fryfogle says he’ll be focused on doing whatever he can to run better routes and become a tick or two faster. And when he’s not on the field, Fryfogle also wants to spend his downtime in the film room — or, at the very least, glued to his iPad — studying defenses.
“I had a lot of great accomplishments last season, but I just felt there were some things I needed to work on,” Fryfogle said. “All of that stuff from last season goes out the window this season. I have to restart and do it all over again at an even better rate than I did last season. We have a really good football team and a lot of guys are coming back. I feel like everything is in our favor.”
Including the fact that the Big Ten’s top returning receiver and quarterback fit together so well.
“That’s something that’s real big for our offense, having him come back,” Penix said. “He made a lot of explosive plays in big-time moments, so it’s really great to have Fry back this year.”