BLOOMINGTON – Indiana junior wide receiver Whop Philyor spent his bye week away from football.

Rather than watch games over the weekend, Philyor took what he described as a real break, playing the latest version of NBA2K.

“I just do the My Career thing,” Philyor said of the video game. “But I had to pick a team. I’m a bandwagon (guy). I’ll pick the Lakers. I’m a LeBron fan.”

A few years ago as a freshman, Philyor admitted he was out late every night with friends during bye weeks, not taking care of his body the best way he could, not getting the rest he needed. But Philyor said he’s matured during his college football career, and the results are showing on the field.

The 5-foot-11, 178-pound Philyor has emerged as IU’s top receiver so far in 2019, with 31 catches for 379 yards and three TDs. Philyor was IU’s prime target in its 40-31 loss at Michigan State on Sept. 28, finishing with a career-high 14 catches for 142 yards and two TDs. The 14 catches were two shy of IU’s record of 16 catches in a game, set by Jason Spear against Purdue on Nov. 22, 1997.

With Philyor lined up in the slot and seniors Nick Westbrook and Donovan Hale on the edges, IU has developed one of the top receiving corps in the Big Ten.

“We’re doing what we said we were going to do during the beginning season, throw for a lot of yards, play the good teams good, even beat the good teams,” Philyor said.

Philyor doesn’t lack for confidence. That’s one thing IU receivers coach Grant Heard first noticed when the speedy receiver from Tampa, Fla., arrived on campus as a freshman.

“He can run, and he’s not scared,” Heard said. “He’s smaller in frame, but he’s not scared to go against anybody. He just wants to compete, and you can tell he loves playing football.”

But Heard said Phlyor had to learn to harness his passion and improve his work habits in order to enhance his development.

“Just learning how to mature, what that really looks like,” Heard said. “They all think they are grown men when they get here but just because you’re 18, it doesn’t make you a grown man. He’s figured that out, and he’s learned if I want this, I have to go through these steps to get it.”

Humility came last season as well. As a sophomore, Philyor was off to a good start with 23 catches for 235 yards and one TD but missed IU’s final five games of the 2018 season with a high ankle sprain. Heard had to build Philyor back up while he sat out with the injury.

“It was the first injury of his career,” Heard said. “We had to talk and be like, just because you aren’t out there, you are still on the team, that whole part of it. But then, once he got over that hurdle, he started getting back out there, slowly, he realized, you know, I’m going to be fine, I’m going to be back, and he’s come back better.”

Heard challenged Philyor during this past offseason to become a more vocal leader.

“Be a leader in a positive way,” Heard said. “Because in the past, he was a leader, but his message would get lost sometimes, even though he might be saying the right things.”

Philyor said IU’s performance against Michigan State, albeit a close loss, can help give the Hoosiers (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) confidence the rest of the season. IU returns to the field at Memorial Stadium on Saturday to face reeling Rutgers (1-4, 0-3) in its homecoming game.

“I think we can win out,” Philyor said. “The way we played Michigan State, we can win out for the rest of the season.”

Philyor could be a big factor between now and the end of the season to try to achieve that goal.

“He is a big part of our offense, and I think he realizes that now,” Heard said. “I think as long as he keeps progressing, he can be pretty special.”

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