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Indiana football's new receiving team has the talent to succeed

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BLOOMINGTON – Indiana football receiver Elijah Sarratt kept an open mind as he entered the transfer portal following James Madison's 31-21 victory over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.

It took a conversation with his former coach Curt Cignetti during his official visit to Bloomington to change all that.

“They told me they were leaving everything as it was,” Sarratt said.

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That sounded like a good plan to Sarratt, who followed his brother Josh to play for Cignetti after a standout freshman season at St. Francis. The decision paid off – Elijah was one of JMU's breakout stars in 2023 with 82 catches, 1,181 yards (11th in the country) and eight touchdowns.

He became the fifth different receiver to reach this milestone during Cignetti's tenure, including Sarratt (2023), Reggie Brown (2023), Kris Thornton (2022 and 2021), Antwane Wells Jr. (2021) and Brandon Polk (2019).

“They move us around in different places, they know our strengths and they try to play to our strengths,” Sarratt said.

Indiana's new offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan has been Cignetti's wide receivers coach throughout this time and has the same duties in Bloomington. The only offensive assistant Cignetti didn't bring with him from JMU was offensive line coach Damian Wroblewski.

The continuity has allowed Sarratt to pick up right where he left off in the fall, while Cignetti has expressed optimism about the group's overall potential. The Hoosiers have 10 scholarship players competing for playing time during spring camp, and three-star signee Charlie Becker will enroll this summer.

“I saw a few guys starting to really step up, Sarratt, Miles Cross and (Myles) Price were good,” Cignetti said. “Ke-shawn (Williams) when he’s out there. (Omar) Cooper made some nice plays, just a little more consistency.”

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Cross (Ohio), Price (Texas Tech) and Williams (Wake Forest) came from the transfer, as did Sarratt. The trio brings a lot of experience and performance to the team. Price leads the way in 42 career appearances with 161 catches, 1,751 yards and 10 touchdowns. He had at least 300 yards or more in four straight seasons.

Cignetti said former Clemson transfer EJ Williams was off to a strong start to the spring before suffering a leg injury that limited his reps in recent practices.

The coach's tone changed a bit when he brought up Donaven McCulley, IU's leading receiver, last year. McCulley took his name out of the transfer portal after Cignetti was hired. Last season he had 48 catches, 644 yards and six touchdowns.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound former quarterback is a Lawrence North graduate who was part of the team's 2021 signing class.

“I think Donaven needs to put in a little effort,” Cignetti said.

Sarratt, who has become the de facto frontrunner thanks to his experience at Cignetti, has shared a message of patience with his new teammates that he hopes will keep everyone on the right track.

“Some days are not going to go the way they want,” Sarratt said. “You just have to be consistent every day. Maybe you'll catch one pass today, maybe eight tomorrow. You just have to weather the storm and try to get better every day.”

Michael Niziolek is the Indiana beat reporter for The Bloomington Herald-Times. You can follow him on X @michaelniziolek Click here to read all of his coverage.