When Darrell Hazell addressed his team for the first time at Purdue’s head coach, he directed a message to the program’s upperclassmen. Making eye contact with each senior, he explained that Purdue can win with its current roster.
The slogan for the first year of the Hazell era is “Reshape, Rebuild, Return.” The Boilermakers won’t become a Big Ten power overnight. But Hazell truly does believe in Purdue’s senior class. He matched words with actions on Sunday evening by naming fifth-year senior Rob Henry as the Boilermakers’ starting quarterback.
When Hazell is a few years into his run at Purdue, the team will have a much different look than it does now. That includes the quarterback position, which will likely feature an Austin Appleby, a Danny Etling, or even a David Blough.
Henry, the dual-threat quarterback who has seven starts under his belt, isn’t Purdue’s future at quarterback. It’s his final year as a Boilermaker. But he’s the guy Hazell feels he can win with this season.
As the quarterback battle waged on in camp, it became apparent that Appleby and Etling weren’t ready to be the starter. Etling, a true freshman, endured struggles with his game due to inexperience. He wasn’t adjusting to the speed of the game and John Shoop’s complex offense. Appleby took great strides in August but lacks the playmaking abilities Henry possesses, and fell just short of the starting nod.
To Hazell’s credit, he didn’t force a freshman into the fire in an attempt to expedite the rebuilding process. Both Appleby and Etling need more time to grow in practice. Putting either on the field for the first snap against Cincinnati would do more harm than good—both for the team and each quarterback’s individual development.
Henry’s game is far from perfect. He lacks the arm strength that Appleby and Etling have, and he, too, was inconsistent during camp. But Henry is a leader, a playmaker, and above all, experienced.
In 2010, Henry started seven games at quarterback, becoming the first Purdue player to lead the team in passing and rushing. He was named the starter before the 2011 season but he tore a ligament in his right knee and missed the season.
It’s now Henry’s fifth year of eligibility, where he’ll look to make up for lost time. He rightfully earned the nod, proving to be the best option at quarterback.
The time for Appleby and Etling will come later. First, the freshmen must mature in practice. Both have the potential to be leaders and winners under center.
In building for the future, Hazell picked the fifth-year senior to lead his team. He’s all in on year one.