Danny Etling wanted to keep being a high-school kid. His second semester at South Vigo in Terre Haute, Ind. would have included basketball season and prom.
It wasn’t easy for Etling to leave behind his friends and family by enrolling early at Purdue, but it was a decision he believed would suit him well.
“I miss home, I miss high school, but this has definitely been the best decision for me,” Etling said. “I’ve gotten a lot stronger; I’ve gotten to know the coaches and the players a lot better. I’ve formed a nice bond with everybody.”
Etling is far from the only one working on introductions this spring. With an entirely new coaching staff in place, the Boilermakers are growing acclimated with the many changes around the program. The competition has been strong with each position group, but that’s especially true at quarterback.
John Shoop, Purdue’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, has quite a battle to watch—a fifth-year senior and three freshmen are taking aim at winning the job of starting quarterback.
The one quarterback with game experience is Rob Henry, back for his fifth year of eligibility. While Henry is the early frontrunner to win the job, the three freshmen—Etling, Austin Appleby and Bilal Marshall—are providing a challenge. Shoop is encouraged by what he has witnessed thus far.
“Our quarterbacks, they’re all competing like heck,” said Shoop. “If you’re competing, and you’re the right kind of guy, that brings out the best in you.”
Henry has 22 games of experience under his belt—and, of course, that’s 22 more than the rest of Purdue’s quarterbacks can boast—but threw just 38 passes and three touchdowns in 2012 after missing the entire 2011 season.
After arriving at Purdue, Shoop popped in game tape and began to study Henry’s abilities. However, it’s much different to watch live in practice. Henry must make a strong impression on his new coach, all while working in a tough competition. He feels the battle has made everyone better.
“Each of us are pushing ourselves,” Henry said. “We’re all trying to establish ourselves to the new coaching staff. It’s all going well.”
While each Boilermaker quarterback is vying for the starting job, they have helped each other along the way. Henry, the veteran, has been the biggest supporter of each freshman. Whether it’s in the film room or even just sending a text message, the senior has kept a close relationship with his teammates.
“We all want that No. 1 spot,” Appleby said. “Who it’s going to be will rise to the top. As far as our relationship goes, it’s very, very close.”
But while Marshall and Appleby have one season under their belt already, Etling has just a few weeks of being on campus. Henry has been instrumental in guiding Etling through the spring.
“Rob has been really great to me,” said Etling. “He has been helping me along the way with every single step of the transition. He has really been helpful.”
Spring drills bring the chance for teaching at any program, but such is especially true with Purdue. Coming in with Shoop is a new playbook and unfamiliar teaching methods.
In practice, Shoop has done everything from rolling large balls at his quarterbacks’ feet to having them throw at eight-foot garbage bins. When the quarterbacks are in the film room, they have studied tape of NFL stars like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. As each quarterback adapts to a new offensive system, they get a strong sampling at how to be successful by watching NFL film. It’s just the spring, but Purdue’s quarterbacks see great potential under Shoop’s leadership.
“He has only been here for a short while, but I’ve learned more than I could have thought in such a short time,” Appleby said of Shoop.
The competition will only continue—first, through 12 more spring practices, then into the summer—and Purdue’s quarterback job may not be won until August. The battle has just begun.
“They’re working their tails off because it’s just in their DNAs,” Shoop said. “They want to win the job, they want to be where their teammates need them to be.”