CHICAGO – Purdue coach Darrell Hazell saw a need for soul-searching.
Even though it was never going to be smooth sailing, his first year had gone so horribly that Hazell gathered his sophomores and juniors for a meeting in December.
We laid out that the strong has to overtake the weak and right has to overtake the wrong, Hazell said Monday at the Big Ten’s media days.
The response, Hazell gushed, was better than any he could have asked for.
He spoke about being extremely proud of the tremendous environment and seeing a different Boilermaker walking around the team facilities.
Yet it’s all talk for now, the memories of a 1-11 season not so easily wiped from the minds of a beaten-down fan base.
It’s very important for Purdue to have success in football, Hazell said.
It’s got to happen in Week 1 when you see the execution. I think the fans will rally behind that.
The Boilermakers return 20 starters.
On the surface, that’s a negative, because those are the same players who participated in all those losses.
But youth offers the potential for improvement, and Hazell expects to reap the benefits of placing his full stamp on the program.
I really feel like this is our team now, he said. It starts with trust. That’s where we are. That’s the biggest maturation you make as a program between Year 1 and Year 2.
After the Boilermakers open training camp next week, position battles and player evaluations will be sorted out rapidly – by design.
That’s even true at quarterback, which could be another signal the job will ultimately belong to sophomore Danny Etling.
Hazell alluded to a push from two inexperienced passers, sophomore Austin Appleby and talented freshman David Blough.
However, he wants to choose a winner within the first week of practice.
So that guy has investment in this team, ownership of this team, Hazell said. Our quarterback situation is outstanding.
Last year at this time – I’ll be honest – we couldn’t even call a play.
Each school brought three players to the Windy City, and Purdue chose defensive end Ryan Russell, linebacker Sean Robinson and running back Raheem Mostert.
They echoed Hazell’s theme of new beginnings, of drawing a line between this year and last.
Confidence is high, Mostert said. The confidence level is through the roof. We didn’t have that last year.
As an example, Russell – who has seven career sacks – predicted he’d post double figures this season.
And Robinson said the team is determined to regain the respect of the league.
Hazell wants the team to put itself out there like that.
You’ll be impressed, he said, by the significant strides we’ve made.