JH Tevis hits the high notes — and ball carriers — for Hoosiers' revamped defense

BLOOMINGTON — If JH Tevis hadn't talked to another soul when the folks from Indiana's Mark Cuban Center for Sports Media and Technology had him mic'd up at a late August practice, the video the IU football team put on its official Twitter account would have been entertaining enough.

The shaggy-haired, bearded fifth-year senior defensive lineman and transfer from California is a talented singer and when he doesn't have anyone in his vicinity to talk to, he's generally singing to himself — mostly country tunes but also the occasional R&B track. Mark Newton, who was his high school coach at Menlo School near Palo Alto, Calif., remembers him nailing Otis Redding's "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," at a talent show when Tevis was in ninth grade. In the course of the minute, 45-second video IU football posted on Twitter of him at practice, he broke out a couple of lines from The Weeknd's "I Feel It Coming," and Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places," among others.

"He could have a career as a country singer," said IU defensive line coach Paul Randolph, a Georgia native. "... I'm a country guy myself. I listen to a lot of Tim McGraw, Florida-Georgia Line and all those. He can really hum those. What really surprised me, I heard him sing Rascal Flatts, one of their songs, and that guy has a high pitch. He's a man of many talents. I'd say "Tennessee Whiskey" (originally by George Jones, recently covered by Chris Stapleton) is his best."

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But what's striking in the video is that when Tevis is singing, his teammates want to sing with him, and they'll sing anything he might know just to join in. Toward the end of the video, defensive tackle Demarcus Elliott heard Tevis singing Garth Brooks. Elliott may or may not have known the song, but he did know Darius Rucker's cover of Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel," so he walked up to Tevis and started singing the chorus, and 600 pounds worth of human broke into a two-part harmony right there on Indiana's practice field.

"Rock me mama like a wagon wheel.

Rock me mama anyway you feel.

Heyyyy, mama rock me."

"Hahaha! That was actually sick," Tevis exclaimed to Elliott, then turned to Ole Miss transfer defensive tackle Patrick Lucas Jr. whose ears were the closest to them. "You hear that? You hear that harmony?"

It was one of several moments captured in just over 100 seconds of video and audio that show how and why Tevis has become one of the most beloved and respected members of the roster in just over nine months in Bloomington, and how he's managed to make an impact as a graduate transfer. He's producing on the field already with eight tackles including two for loss in the season's first two games, and he's a respected member of Indiana's Leadership Council.

Indiana's JH Tevis (47) tackles Idaho's Roshaun Johnson (24) during the Indiana versus Idaho football game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.
Indiana's JH Tevis (47) tackles Idaho's Roshaun Johnson (24) during the Indiana versus Idaho football game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.

Tevis has an ability to connect with people that seems both natural and refined, drawing laughs when he's in a larger groups but having focused conversations in one-on-one settings. He knows when to talk football and when to find anything else to talk about.

In the course of the video, Tevis gets several teammates talking about what their mother calls them when they're in trouble. (According to freshman defensive tackle Nick James, "It's your whole government name." JH mostly agreed, because when he's in trouble, that's when he gets called John Henry.)

"He's a people person," senior defensive tackle Sio Nofoagatoto'a said. "He can easily relate or just talk to people. He's one of the guys on the team that you really see talking to everybody whether it's D-line, O-line, receivers, quarterbacks, DBs. That's been a good thing. Just his willingness to help people is a big thing. If he sees a young guy struggling with anything on the field or off the field, he's really good at picking up those things and going out and helping. He's easy to talk to, he's an understanding person, and he can talk about anything."

He can because he came from a family that emphasized being well-rounded. Academics were placed on a higher pedestal than athletics, but more to the point, both were considered parts of an even greater whole. It was important to learn for the sake of earning gainful employment and turning that into a career, but it was also important to learn about the world and developed skills for reasons other than monetization.

His grandfather was an anatomy professor at Stanford. His mother Amanda and father Michael both graduated from Stanford and got into commercial real estate after that. Michael, who grew up in Indianapolis and went to North Central High School according to JH, played center on the Stanford football team when one John Elway was the quarterback.

JH grew up in the Bay Area, but also spent time living in France. He speaks at least three languages: French and Dutch along with English.

"My family instilled in all their children that football will only last so long," Tevis said. "You want to set yourself up for the future to be able to provide, and also just learn things that you're interested in. It's a more productive way to go about it. I took that to heart from my parents."

But still, he took football seriously and he took being a teammate seriously, and he was a naturally gifted and giving leader even as a teenager.

"JH is a great bridge builder," said Newton, who has retired from coaching and is now executive director of the Riekes Center for Human Enhancement in Menlo Park, Calif., . "He was at a young age just connecting with different teammates from different backgrounds. Just a very affable, gregarious guy. He's just unbelievably unafraid to enter a room and to engage anyone. He doesn't have any insecurities about connecting with people in multiple languages and multiple places."

And he also happened to be a beast on the front line on both sides of the ball, powerful and athletic enough to wreck anyone he blocked on offense or who tried to block him on defense. He played guard and defensive end, earning first-team All-Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division honors in each of his three varsity seasons and Player of the Year in the division as both a junior and a senior. He recorded at least 14 sacks and 23 tackles for loss in each of those three seasons, peaking with an astounding 22.5 sacks, 50 tackles for loss and 125 total tackles as a junior.

"He deceivingly has a pretty good first step," Newton said. "He's a big guy, his instincts are exceptional. He'll stay sound in his technique and his gap integrity or gap responsibility, but he also has a next-level instinct to make the play when maybe he shouldn't have. Then he's just flat-out extremely tough."

Tevis didn't draw any attention from his father and grandfather's alma mater, which was a bit of a disappointment because he had grown up rooting for Stanford, considering Andrew Luck and Christian McCaffrey among his favorite players. But Stanford's rival, California came through with a scholarship and Tevis' family was willing to be on the other side of the Big Game rivalry for a few years.

Tevis' career at Cal was decently productive, though he lost valuable time to the COVID-19 pandemic. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2018 to add weight, as he was listed at just 6-5, 225 on his recruiting page, but is now 285. In 2019 he played in four games and had five tackles as a redshirt freshman and he won a starting job in 2020, but the Pac-12 was even more reticent to play during the pandemic than the Big Ten was and the Golden Bears played just four games that season. He came back and won a starting job again in 2021 and recorded 37 tackles including 5.5 for loss and a sack, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.

Tevis also earned multiple mentions on the Pac 12 fall academic honor roll and completed his degree in American Studies in under four years. With two years of eligibility remaining, he wanted to pursue a master's of business administration, but couldn't get into the hyper-competitive program at Cal. So he entered the transfer portal and actually had Indiana on his mind because of the prestigious Kelley School of Business. IU happened to need some defensive line help and reached out quickly once he entered, so it was an obvious fit for both parties.

IU coach Tom Allen was hopeful Tevis could provide immediate leadership. As much experience as Tevis has, that's still not an easy ask for the new kid at school, but he approached the task with his usual blend of fearlessness and humility.

"You just have to start by doing things the right way and doing things the way this team does," Tevis said. "I have my own experiences, but you have to understand where you are and understand you don't know everything because this is a new program. I came in, learned how the system as a whole works, then after that you want to prove yourself as a hard worker in the weight room and a potential playmaker on the field. Then just being a good dude to your teammates and supporting people."

Though he mostly played defensive end at Cal, he embraced the idea of playing all three hand-in-ground positions on the IU defensive line including defensive tackle, and he's been very effective as a smaller option there. Linebacker Aaron Casey and Bull Dasan McCullough are the only two IU players with more tackles for loss in the first two games.

"On gameday, he's one of the guys you see flashing because he's always around the ball," Randolph said. "He's active and he's able to be a big anchor point when you need to be, big enough, strong enough to take on two if you have to, then also quick enough, explosive enough, athletic enough to stunt and move and get on edges and make plays. We're fired up that we have someone who has those talents and traits"

Because he's found a role so fast and because his people skills are so extensive, he's already every bit as revered as IU's veteran defensive linemen and as much as Allen and the IU coaching staff hoped he'd be.

"When people understand you're coming from a good place," Tevis said, "they're going to listen to you."

And maybe even sing with you if the feeling strikes.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Indiana Hoosiers football: Cal transfer JH Tevis makes immediate impact