WEST LAFAYETTE -- Justin Sinz is Purdue’s new top tight end on the depth chart. But he’d rather still be the backup.
A freak wrist injury forced Gabe Holmes into season-ending surgery. He was catching a pass in last Tuesday’s practice and landed awkwardly on his left hand. The senior was looking to have a breakout year. Now, Sinz must assume the starting job.
“Gabe and I are really close,” Sinz said. “It was hard on both of us. I didn’t want to see him go down; he’s one of my best friends.”
Upon discovering he would miss the remainder of his senior season, Holmes had a message for his friend.
“He just said, “go make plays,’” Sinz said, recalling his conversation with Holmes. “We’ve been teammates for three or four years now. We know each other really well.”
Such is the reality of football, where injuries can end a season at any time. Purdue is forced to move on without its starter and a locker room leader.
The tight end position is especially important in the Boilermakers’ pro-style offense, which looks to create mismatches in the defense—especially with the tight end. When the players learned the news last Wednesday, they responded well in practice.
“The guys came out and were positive,” tight ends coach Gerad Parker said. “They got to see Gabe, and he was back and around, so that helped. We got out, practiced our tails off and knew we had to meet the challenge.”
Sinz will be the guy counted on in the Boilermakers’ offense. The 6-foot-4 target had just seven catches entering this season. In Saturday’s game against Notre Dame—his first game as the top tight end—he posted six receptions.
“He’s got a great feel for vacancies in coverage and using his body against people and finding that soft seam where he sits down,” head coach Darrell Hazell said. “He’s got very soft hands. So he has been a blessing.”
Added Parker: “He’s got a football IQ. The things about being a tight end—finding different holes to sit in, being successful in the pass game, and serving the run game—that’s what he is, what he’ll be able to do and why he’ll have success.”
Sinz was a quarterback and safety at Edgar (Wis.) High School, before being converted to tight end at Purdue. He was a two-time all-state selection who led his team to a 27-1 record, including a state title in his senior season.
This Saturday, Sinz will return to his home state to take on the Wisconsin Badgers. Being a starter is just one of many things which will make it a unique day.
“There are a lot of different factors that make it a big game,” Sinz said. “And going home and playing in front of a lot of people, it’s fun. It makes you want to play well in front of all your friends and family.”