Change can be a good thing.
New Purdue football coach Darrell Hazell will attempt to prove that statement as he takes over the reins in West Lafayette from Danny Hope and inherits a team that went 6-7 in 2012, losing in the Heart of Dallas Bowl to Oklahoma State 58-14.
Hazell led the Kent State Golden Flashes to a 16-10 record in two seasons, including an 11-3 mark in 2012 with a perfect 8-0 Mid-American Conference record.
Hazell feels that he can turn around the Boilermakers in similar fashion like he did at Kent State, and hopes to do it quickly.
“There definitely is an energy that we’ll bring to Purdue, but also there needs to be a program put in place that blends consistency about the things that we do, coupled with the direction that we’re headed,” Hazell said.
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Rob Henry returns as a fifth-year senior, and will hope to run a unit that was decimated by attrition last season. The lone returnee from the running back corps is Akeem Hunt, who rushed for 350 yards last season. Brandon Cottom also saw a little action carrying the ball last season, and he returns as well.
Gary Bush also returns for his fifth season lining up as wide receiver, and was third on the Boilermakers’ stable of wideouts, catching 41 passes for 365 yards and seven touchdowns. Tight end Gabe Holmes also returns from last season after catching 25 passes for 158 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
“The sky’s the limit as to how good we can be,” Holmes said. “Coach Hope recruited me to Purdue, so naturally I was upset when he was let go, but was happy for Coach Hazell coming because he has won nearly everywhere that he has been.”
The offensive line returns virtually intact, with Kevin Pamphile, Trevor Foy and Justin Kitchens paving the way for the backfield.
Defensively, Ricardo Allen returns from an injury that ended his season last year, and hopes to lead his unit on the field now that he is fully healthy.
“After I went down with a leg injury last year, I didn’t play as much as I wanted to,” Allen said. “But now, I’m 100% and getting rehab every day, and am getting ready to start the season fresh.”
The defensive line lost some talent last season, including Carolina Panthers' second round pick Kawaan Short, but one player — defensive end Bruce Gaston returns — and hopes to fill the shoes that Short left.
“We are all truly on the same page now, and we have a collective conscience as a team," Gaston said. “It definitely helps to have a healthy team as well, including Ricardo in the secondary.”
The special teams unit returns everyone, including kicker Sam McCartney and punter Cody Webster, and hopes to continue the strong tradition that the Boilermakers have had in that department.
Purdue faces a daunting non-conference schedule, which includes games against Indiana State, Northern Illinois, and Notre Dame at Ross-Ade Stadium, as well as the opener at Cincinnati.
Hazell knows that the Boilermakers have what it takes to get to the next level in the Big Ten Conference, and he is prepared to be patient along the way in order to achieve that goal.