Darrell Hazell aspires to win championships at Purdue. First, he must win in his own backyard.
Indiana, known as the Crossroads of America, has always been rich in talent. Yet, the perennial powers always seem to steal it away. Purdue has never enjoyed consistent recruiting success in its home state. Hazell hopes to change that.
“We’re trying to drive the message: the state of Purdue is very important to us,” Hazell said on Wednesday, speaking at Big Ten Media Days.
So far, it’s working. Hazell started by bringing talented center prospect Kirk Barron on board from his Ohio commitment. Then, in early July, three-star defensive end Gelen Robinson joined the Boilermakers’ class.
The biggest victory yet, though, was landing four-star linebacker Drue Tranquill. The highly-touted prospect had offers and interest from all over the Midwest. He wanted to stay home, picking a promising Purdue program.
“It’s a great university,” Tranquill said of Purdue. “It’s a shame they haven’t had a great football program to represent that the past few years.”
During Danny Hope’s head-coaching tenure, recruiting in the state of Indiana was never a priority. In Hope’s four full recruiting classes, the Boilermakers welcomed just nine in-state prospects. Hazell already has three in, and more could be coming.
By recruiting in-state, a program builds an identity, something Hope never bothered to do. Hazell is working to build a pipeline in the Midwest, with Indiana serving as that home base.
Hazell’s staff has part of Indiana divided into segments, with several different assistants manning each region. Marcus Freeman and Jafar Williams are responsible for landing a pair—Robinson and Tranquill—from the state’s northern section.
It’s fairly simple. In order to build Purdue into a national power, he first must make it an in-state power.
“It’s great because a lot of coaches go out of state when they can miss out on some players that are right in their backyard,” said Robinson, who had offers from all across the Big Ten. “Coach Hazell is making a point that he wants to recruit Indiana.”
Tranquill grew up in Alabama and Tennessee before moving to Fort Wayne at the age of 12. He now proudly identifies himself as a native of the Hoosier State.
There were several key selling points which led Tranquill to Purdue. His relationships with the coaching staff were certainly a key, in addition to the university’s academic fit. However, one of the greatest draws was the chance to be part of a rising program close to home.
“I’m happy to represent my home and the people in state,” Tranquill said. “It’s a great state. I’ve found pride in that.”
Kirk Barron has lived in the state of Indiana all his life, but found his favorite football team on his own. His very first college football game saw Purdue play Notre Dame in 2003, a 23-10 Boilermaker win in West Lafayette.
“After that, Purdue was my favorite because they won the game,” Barron said.
Historically, Purdue has struggled to jockey for its position in the state’s sports world. Notre Dame boasts 11 championships in football while Indiana claims five on the hardcourt.
But the perception of Purdue’s football program from the prior decade is different than those past. The Boilermakers were nationally relevant under Joe Tiller’s leadership. He brought in stars like Drew Brees and Kyle Orton, even taking Purdue to the Rose Bowl.
These are the memories for this generation of recruits. Purdue is seen in a positive light.
“They were always pretty up there,” Barron said. “It’s a Big Ten school in Indiana and they have a pretty good tradition of winning.”
Hazell hopes to bring that tradition back to Purdue. The class of 2014 could be the group that fronts that success.
“He’s going to build a great program,” Tranquill said. “Under his ways and philosophies, this program is going to excel.”
Added Robinson: “I hope we can set the standard high with this class.”
In building the Boilermakers’ future, Hazell has started in his own backyard. That’s the way it should be.