Nate Sudfeld has a scar on his shin, and it’s not from an injury common to star quarterbacks.
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When Sudfeld was 3 or 4 years old — he can’t remember exactly — he fell down an escalator in the Empire State Building and gashed open his leg. Not the most pleasant memory of his first trip to New York City.
“Right when I was beginning to remember things,” said Sudfeld, the brother of injured Jets tight end Zach Sudfeld.
It’s safe to say the younger Sudfeld’s most recent trip to New York has been more enjoyable, and he hopes it only gets better from here.
Sudfeld is the quarterback of an Indiana team that will make its first bowl appearance since 2007 in the Pinstripe Bowl against Duke on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
The product of Modesto, California, and his teammates — many of whom had never been to New York — spent parts of the last few days as tourists. They marveled at the lights of Times Square, watched the Rockettes perform and laughed throughout a comedy show at Caroline’s on Broadway. Sudfeld even got a kick out of eating a hot dog fresh off a street cart.
“Times Square, we went there at night and it was like it was daytime,” said defensive end Nick Mangieri, making his first trip to New York. “It was crazy.”
To many in the college football world, what’s equally crazy is that Indiana is in New York right now, given the program’s perpetual struggles.
The Hoosiers went 26-64 from 2008 to 2014, but they were 6-6 this year and nearly upset then-No. 1 Ohio State and then-No. 14 Michigan. Earning a spot in a bowl game is only the latest sign that the program might be on the rise.
“We’ve really taken Indiana football to a much higher level,” said Sudfeld, whose 3,184 yards and 24 touchdown passes with five interceptions lead a high-powered offense that ranks 23rd nationally at 36.2 points per game. “We’re very proud of that.”
The Hoosiers will run into a Duke team with more bowl experience but just as much hunger. The Blue Devils (7-5) lost bowl games in each of the previous three seasons. The program has not won a bowl game since the 1961 Cotton Bowl.
“We’re not just happy to be in it,” Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk said. “We’re here to win it. We came here to New York with one intent, and that’s to go home with a victory for our program.”
But Sudfeld does not want to leave New York with another scar, this one of the emotional brand. He wants to lead Indiana to its first bowl victory since 1991 and everything that comes with it.
Said Sudfeld, “We are just fighting to gain that respect.”