Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lions @ Vikings: A Special Game for a Special Duo

Believe it or not, I have some pretty fond memories of my two-and-a-half years living in Minnesota.

True, I hated the cold.  And yes, I hated my 70-hour work weeks (life of a News and Sports Director, I guess) that resulted in paychecks that McDonald's employees would laugh at.  And, did I mention it's cold there? (Seriously, -20 F should not register as an actual temperature, ever.)

When I wasn't freezing like LeBron in the 4th quarter (ZING!), I made great friends, learned a lot from my job, and got to cover some amazing stories, from President Obama to NFL playoff games.

But, hands-down the best memories I have from my time in the Land of 10,000 Lakes came on Sunday, October 12, 2008 and Sunday, November 15th, 2009.

Those days mark the annual meeting between the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome and my dad and I were at both of them.

On each of those two mornings, the two of us woke up with optimism, hope, and enthusiasm and excitedly put on our Honolulu Blue Lions' jerseys (he rocked the Barry Sanders, I had on the Megatron one, and if my grandpa was there, we were determined to find him a Bobby Lane uni).

I lived about an hour away from the Dome so he and I established a nice tradition of stopping at the Denny's just over halfway through the drive and grabbing a pregame champions breakfast.  When we stepped into the restaurant showing our unwavering support of the boys from Motown, heads turned.  In a sea of purple, we bravely walked with our heads high and blue bright.   I felt like we were two high school boys sneaking into the girls' locker room.   Everyone just looked and stared in disgust, or at least it felt that way.

Once we got down to the game, we enjoyed the pleasantries of downtown Minneapolis (my dad fell in love with this Ethiopian restaurant) and the ugliness of the Metrodome.

But, all the pregame activities pale in comparison to the moment right before kickoff.

I covered every Vikings home game for two seasons, except for when they played the Lions because I wanted to be able to be in the stands with my dad, acting like a maniac for three hours, cheering on our team. So while I may have missed the catering of the press box, it was still no match for that feeling we both shared together as the Lions ran out onto the field.

My dad is about as calm of a man as there is.  He is rarely phased by something and keeps his emotions in check 99-percent of the time.  But, when he heard "Immigrant Song" by Led Zepplin which the Vikings blast through the speakers before every game, the man got jacked up.   He would throw up high fives and put his hands in the air like he was DJ Khaled.  A caged animal broke loose and was out for four quarters.

The Lions lost both games.  We are both convinced the refs robbed us of the first game even with Dan Orlovsky running out of the back of the end zone for a safety  and the Vikings simply dominated the second go around.

But even though we left the Metrodome twice without seeing our Lions win, the old man and I still talk about those weekends often and the laughs and smiles are still as fresh as they were two and three years ago.

The Lions head back to the Metrodome, Sunday.  My dad and I won't be there.   Since I moved to Indiana, my days at the Dome are over.  But, the Lions game in Minnesota still holds a special place in my heart.

Fortunately, I am going back to Michigan for the weekend and will be able to watch Detroit's game in the Metrodome with my dad, just like we used to.  However this time, the Lions are undefeated (they were winless in 2008) and actually favored to win.

I expect there will be a special Ari Gold-type 'hug it out' embrace between the two of us after we watch the Lions walk out of the Metrodome feeling like winners, just like my dad and I always did.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Purdue Picks Up Win and Momentum in Blowout of SE Missouri

Purdue wasn’t going to have a letdown, Saturday.  The team couldn’t afford one, not if they hope to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2007.

The Boilermakers steamrolled Southeast Missouri, 59-0, at Ross-Ade Stadium to get their season back on the winning track.

“Our team showed up and we played hard,” said head coach Danny Hope.  “I know that Southeast Missouri isn’t quite the same as Rice or some of the other teams we are going to play, but it was the game we were playing today...we got a lot out of today”

Most importantly a win.  The Boilers needed this win and, besides the first half of the first quarter, they played like they needed it.  

“A win is a win.  (Southeast Missouri) didn’t come in here and lay down, so it feels good to get a victory, a big victory and a shutout makes it just that much better,” said linebacker Chris Carlino.

The Boilers dominated the Redhawks in every way.

Purdue racked up 627 yards of total offense, including 393 yards on the ground.  Both are the most for the Boilermakers under Danny Hope.  

Akeem Shavers (11 carries,75 yds) and Ralph Bolden (11 carries, 57-yards) led a prolific Purdue ground attack. Both junior running backs scored a pair of rushing touchdowns.  Freshman Akeem Hunt also found the end zone twice, both in the fourth quarter.

The defense made plays, as well.  The Boilers held the Redhawks to 153 total yards and recorded the program’s first shutout since 2004.

 “I think we got better as a football team throughout the course of the week and I think it showed up some today on the field, and we won and that was our goal for the week, get better and win, that was a pretty simple assignment.” said Hope.  

Purdue is now 2-1, but the jury is still out on what to expect from the team from West Lafayette.  

The Boilermakers needed a fourth quarter comeback at home to beat Middle Tennessee in the season opener and then lost at Rice last week when the Owls blocked what would have been the game winning field goal.

With all due respect to Southeast Missouri, which dropped to 1-16 against FBS opponents, this game wasn’t the litmus test Purdue will use to measure how good it really is.  That probably comes in two weeks when the Boilermakers host Notre Dame.

But, that doesn’t mean Saturday’s win wasn’t pivotal.

“(The win means) a lot of momentum, but at the same time it’s one game at a time.  We won this game, we are going to enjoy this win, but when we get back to it this week…we have to game plan and continue to work together.  We have to want it,” said defensive tackle Bruce Gaston.

Now the challenge is making winning a habit.  

Purdue has not won back-to-back games since October of last year when it opened the Big Ten season with consecutive wins over Northwestern and Minnesota.  The Boilers ended 2010 on a six game losing streak and 2011 has already proven to be a rollercoaster. 

“It was really important that we felt good as a team going into the open week,” Hope said.  “We wanted to win, win big, have fun, get better, and feel good this week.  That’s what this football team needed to do.”

Purdue will feel a lot better, more often, by learning to win with consistency.

Purdue Dominant in 59-0 Win Over SE Missouri

Purdue’s loss at Rice last week was painful for the Boilers, but it may have been even worse for Southeast Missouri.

The Boilermakers took out the frustrations of last weekend’s lost in Houston on the Redhawks.  Purdue hammered Southeast Missouri 59-0 at Ross-Ade Stadium, Saturday, to improve to 2-1.

It is the most points Purdue has scored under head coach Danny Hope and the shutout is the Boilermakers first since 2004.

“We played about as well as I thought we could have,” said Hope.  “Our goal this week was two things; we wanted to get better and we wanted to win.  Period.”

Ricardo Allen gave the Boilermakers’ defense some early momentum when he intercepted his first pass of the season.  The 5’9” sophomore cornerback snagged the ball away from 6’6” Chantae Ahamefule on the Redhawks first play from scrimmage.

Purdue gave the ball right back on an O.J Ross fumble, but the defense came up big again on the ensuing Southeast Missouri drive, stopping the Redhawks on fourth and one.

The Boilers turned that defensive stand into three points on a 19-yard-field goal by Carson Wiggs. 

Purdue gave up just 153 yards on defense, after surrendering an average of 406 in its first two games against Middle Tennessee and Rice.

“We absolutely had to come out here and win this game.  We had to show them we are Purdue,” said defensive tackle Bruce Gaston.  “I think we really came together as a team today, not just because of the shutout, but because of the way we played, the enthusiasm on the sideline, everybody was getting into it.”

The Boilermakers found the end zone in the first quarter when Akeem Shavers scored on an eight-yard run, the first of two on the day for junior running back.

Shavers finished the game with 75- yards on eleven carries.  He was the leading rusher in Purdue’s most prolific offensive game in the Danny Hope-era.  The Boilers racked up 393-yards on the ground and 627-yards total. 

Shavers got the start because Hope suspended Ralph Bolden for a quarter due to academic issues.

Shavers said getting the bulk of the carries early help him getting going.

“I have not lag time.  I go out there and get warm and get my momentum going.  It’s a lot easier,” he said of starting.  “That loss to Rice had us kind of down in the dumps and we didn’t like that feeling so we came out and had to change that.”

Two other Purdue running backs also found the end zone twice.  Bolden scored a pair of touchdowns (1,7) in the second quarter, picking up right where Shavers left off, and freshman  Akeem Hunt ran it in twice(13, 3) in the fourth quarter.

Purdue’s aerial attack was no slouch, either.   Caleb TerBush started at quarterback and went 14-17 for 143 yards.  The Boilermakers also got to see Robert Marve in game action for the first time in almost a year.  He tore his ACL against Toledo on September 25th, 2010.  Marve, and Boilermaker fans, hoped he’d be ready to play by the 2011 opener, but his recovery took longer than anticipated.

The wait was worth it.

In his first series, Marve went five-for-five for 59 yards and capped it off with a five-yard touchdown pass to Gary Bush.  He finished the game 7-8 for 91 yards.

“It was a big confidence booster for us,” said TerBush of the win.  “The team took a huge step forward.”

Purdue is off next week and then will host in-state foe Notre Dame, October 1st.  It will be the first night game for the Boilermakers this season. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Time is NOW!!!

This is the year.  This is the year the Lions finally will make the Super Bowl.  If I had a dollar for every year I said some variation of this, I would have about $22. (I can't imagine I was totally concerned about the Lions postseason dreams between the ages of birth and four.  But at five, it was on!)

The Lions start another season Sunday at Tampa Bay and expectations are as high as ever.  And why not?  Look at their roster.

Matthew Stafford has a rocket for an arm that NASA (or the Russian space program, or whoever is still going to space) should envy.

Calvin Johnson is a physical freak.

Ndamukong Suh is arguably the most dominant defensive lineman since Reggie White. He is big, strong, and I am pretty sure could snap the neck of a water buffalo by just looking at it.

Those three are the faces of the franchise, but there is depth with these Lions, as well.

The entire D-Line has Pro Bowl potential.

Nate Burleson is a high-end second receiver.  Jahvid Best has the ability to be Barry Sanders-light.  The revamped linebacker corps is full of young talent.  The plethora of tight ends is maybe as dynamic as you will find in the NFC.

And those are just the guys who line up on the field.

Martin Mayhew has proven he has front office savy.  Jim Schwartz has the respect of his players and fans who have fully bought into his system.  And Detroit has Gunther Cunningham leading the defense.  How can you not love this guy?!  (See below at the 1:40 mark).

If buying into the Lions is drinking Kool-Aid, I want a whole pitcher.  I want that big glass man to bust through the walls of my apartment and pour me a glass of Rocky Raiola.  I'll drink like Kid Cudi at a nightclub.

But, I've done this before.  I've believed in Lions teams of years past.

I was convinced Scott Mitchell was the second coming of Dan Marino.  (He did throw for 4,000 yards one year, then plop.)  I watched in awe as Marty Mornhigweg told the NFL that Mother Nature was better than his offense and picked the wind in overtime instead of the ball.  Believe it or not, the Lions lost that game.  When they drafted Joey "Blue Skies,"  I looked up and thought I saw angels. (Now he can't even avoid getting tackled when on bike!)  The last time we went 4-0 in the preseason, I looked at flights for where the upcoming Super Bowl was to be held.  The Lions didn't win a game in the regular season that year.  I  didn't do any traveling.  And again, another NFL season was a disappointment.

And, let's not even mention this joker.

So here I sit.  Again, in early September with a level of excitement I haven't experienced since my college roommates and I got a special invitation to the Alpha Phi sorority house at Michigan State. 

I can't take any more disappointments.  No it's not Super Bowl or bust for me.  But, it's certainly playoffs or bust.  I deserve it.  All Detroit fans deserve it.

True fans have stuck with this franchise no matter how bad it's gotten.  And it's been bad.  Lions fans are like Lindsay Lohan's rehab sponsor.  You always hope for the best, but know it's just a matter of time before she falls off the wagon.

Well no more, DAMN IT!  We are DETROIT!  We make vehicles, maybe not wagons (anymore), but vehicles and ours are supposed to run seamlessly and with power!  Just like our football team.

I have not lived in my beloved state of Michigan for four years because of jobs, but have watched 90-percent of Lions games in that time.

My dad and I twice went to games against the Vikings in Minnesota and proudly sported our Honolulu Blue.  It wasn't easy, especially after Dan Orlovsky's mental GPS died and he ran out of the back of the endzone for a safety.  But we stayed.  We cheered.  We believed.

I hope the 2011 Lions realize they are playing for more than just a paycheck, pride, and wins.  They are playing for the spirit of a city, state, and fans that need to experience success.

Michigan's unemployment rate is nearly eleven-percent and Detroit's is almost double that.  Good news is hard to come by in the Mitten.

But hard times are no match for Detroit fans.  The Tigers continue to pack Comerica Park as they close in on a playoff berth and as much as Michiganders love the boys of summer, a playoff run for the boys of fall would be 100-times more exciting, because it's so rare.

The Lions have won one playoff game since the late 1950s.  One!

Think about what has happened since then.  Americans have walked on the moon and then said, 'eh that's not all that exciting, let's shut that program down.'  The Internet was created.  Minka Kelly and Halle Berry were created.  The world has experienced amazing days, yet Lions fans have waited for more than a half century for their special one.

This is our time. It's a chance to change from the butt of jokes to the head of the class. 

The state of Michigan and city of Detroit is tough.  It's rugged.  It's blue collared.   This year's Lions need to play with those same qualities.

And if they do, THIS. IS. THE. YEAR!!!   RESTORE THE ROAR!

Purdue Ready to Handle All Kinds of Heat

As I type this in a sweater and craving for a heater, it's hard to remember that, last weekend, temperatures flirted with triple digits in West Lafayette.

Those who came to Ross-Ade Stadium for the Purdue football season opener slaved through almost unbearable heat.  For fans, the Old Spice man couldn't get on his horse and ride in fast enough to relieve them of the buckets of sweat that poured out while watching the Boilermakers sneak out a 27-24 win over Middle Tennessee. It was reported as being as hot as120-degrees on the field, last Saturday.

The players' primary focus was defeating the Blue Raiders, but it was even hard for the Boilermakers to avoid the heat's distraction.

"If it got any hotter, we would have caught on fire," said head coach Danny Hope.  "I thought we managed the heat pretty good.  We didn't really have any casualties from it."

You know what's crazy? As hot as it was in Central Indiana last week, it could be just as sizzling, if not hotter, when the Boilermakers take the field against Rice in Houston, Saturday.

"I think the best preparation was (against Middle Tennessee), playing in that heat.  That was incredible." said receiver Justin Siller.  "We know it's going to be just like that in Houston.  I think (Saturday) was a very good stepping stone for us to go down to Houston to play in that heat."

High temperatures are expected in the mid-90s when the Boilers and Owls square off at Rice Stadium.

But, no Purdue player may feel the heat Saturday more than kicker Carson Wiggs.  Sure, he'll battle through the scortching temperatures like the rest of his teammates, but pressure may make it a little hotter under the preseason All-American's shoulder pads.

Wiggs grew up in Grand Prairie, Texas which is about five hours from Rice.  He is anticipating this to be more of a home game for him than even playing in West Lafayette.

"My mom and dad got a bundle of tickets for 85 family and friends, including a bunch of teachers from kindergarten through high school, the entire family, cousins, coming out of the woodwork, coming to see the game," he said.  "I'm excited to go down there."

Wiggs is off to a solid start to what many believe could be an award winning season.  He drilled a pair of field goals against Middle Tennessee, including a 50-yarder.  He also went three-for-three on extra points and dropped two punts inside the Blue Raiders' 20-yard line.

He is pretty comfortable kicking within the confines of Ross-Ade, but is anticipating some added stress when he puts his leg to work in his home state.

"I think it may be a little more nerve racking, because I know those guys.  I can come out to Ross-Ade and not really personally know more than 20 or 30 people in the stands." Wiggs said.  "Now, I know 85 people who are just going to be staring at me the whole time whether I'm on the sideline or on the field."

Wiggs said he doesn't have any advice for his teammates in handling the heat, only to do what the coaches say and stay hydrated.

Defensive End Ryan Russell credits the team's off-season workout regiment with getting the Boilermakers prepared to handle the blistering conditions.

"We are in good shape.  We've been running all summer with the new strength and conditioning people,"  he said.  "We are probably in the best shape we have ever been in.  I know I am personally."

And that may be one of the reasons the Boilermakers avoided a meltdown when the heat was turned up in their season opener.

Trailing by four with about five minutes left, Purdue put together an 85-yard scoring drive, capped off with Caleb TerBush connecting with Antavian Edison for a 35-yard touchdown.

The Boilers put all hope the Blue Raiders had away, when cornerback Ricardo Allen blocked what would have been a game tying field goal as time expired.

The win ended Purdue's six game losing streak and may have been exactly what the Boilermakers needed to fire up some momentum, no matter what the conditions.

"We really want it this year," said Russell.  "We've all worked very hard.  We've seen each other sweat, cry, and bleed for it.  There's a better sense of urgency and intensity, now."

Purdue will sweat plenty Saturday as they try to stay hot, both physically and record-wise, against Rice.  Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Boilermakers Taking Adversity Head-On

Sometimes things don’t turn out as you’d hope.  The Purdue football program knows that life lesson all too well.

But, the 2011 Boilermakers appear determined to make their own luck and not let bad breaks dictate their fate.

“Things didn’t go the way we wanted (them) to right away, but we stuck together as a family and we came through in the end,” said quarterback Caleb TerBush.

Purdue started the season with a thrilling 27-24 comeback win at home against Middle Tennessee.  The Boilers trailed by four late in the game, but put together a three-minute drive capped off by TerBush hitting Antavian Edison on a 35-yard touchdown pass with 49-seconds to play to earn the victory.

“We got tired a little bit, but we just kept grinding and grinding and it worked out for us,” TerBush said.

Purdue’s junior quarterback is used to battling through adversity.  He sat out all of last year because of academic ineligibility and started this year third on the Boilermakers depth chart.  

Rob Henry was supposed to start under center for Purdue, but he suffered a season ending ACL injury and Robert Marve continues to recover from his own knee surgery a year ago.  That meant, it was finally TerBush’s time to lead the team, and while no means perfect (19-33 for 219 yards, 2 TDs, INT), he performed well enough to get Purdue’s 2011 campaign started with a win.

“He had to get it done, and he got it done,” said Purdue head coach Danny Hope of TerBush.  “He’s our quarterback and we are proud of him. He’ll get a lot better from this game.”

Even with TerBush’s late game heroics, Middle Tennessee still had a chance to send the game into overtime.  Alan Gendreau’s 47-yard field goal attempt was blocked as time expired.

The man who got his hand on the ball was Ricardo Allen.  The sophomore entered the 2011 season as one of the most highly touted cornerbacks in the Big Ten, but he made a big mistake against the Blue Raiders that costs the Boilermakers an early deficit.

Allen fumbled returning a punt in the first quarter and Middle Tennessee converted the turnover into a 7-0 lead.

“It killed me all game,” Allen said of the mistake.

But, he atoned for the letdown by blocking the kick that sealed the win for Purdue.

“I had to make a play,” said Allen.  “That was my chance and I had to take advantage of it.”

Allen and the Boilermakers are learning to take advantage of their opportunities, because they know how precious good ones are.

Just ask Ralph Bolden.  Bolden was the Big Ten’s third leading rusher in 2009, but suffered a season ending knee injury prior to last year and was forced to miss the entire season.

He was back on the field, Saturday, and made the most of his return.

“It felt great just to go out there and play with my teammates,” the junior said.

Bolden rushed 17 times for 120-yards.  It was the third time in his career that he eclipsed the century mark.  But he was less concerned about his statistics (admitting after the game he had no idea how many yards he ran for) and more focused on the Boilermakers getting off the field with a win.

He said challenges the team has faced over the past two years, whether it was injuries, bad luck on the field, or any other hurdle, the Boilermakers are now ready to tackle all obstacles, especially a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

“The game was close, but I knew we were going to come out (with the win).  My teammates, last year, showed a lot of commitment and dedication to keep going and to never give up, “said Bolden.  “We have a lot of leaders on this team, so in times like this, it’s a great thing to have so many leaders.”

Purdue's win over Middle Tennessee was anything but perfect, but the Boilermakers appear to be a team ready to take on adversity and make the best of it.

Purdue Hammers Down When Needed Most

This was not the start the Purdue football team was hoping for, but the Boilermakers will take it.  Danny Hope’s squad survived a season opening scare at home sneaking past Middle Tennessee, 27-24.

“We are going to have to get better as a football team, obviously,” said Hope.  “In the long run, this is probably better for us, to have to come from behind and win, to be backed into a corner and have to come out swinging, that was probably more important for our football team today than to come out here and play really well and beat Middle Tennessee by a significant margin.”

Purdue trailed for the majority of the game, but finally took the lead with 49-seconds to play.  Quarterback Caleb TerBush hooked up with Antavian Edison on the 35-yard game-winning score.

“I wouldn’t want to win any other way,” said Edison. “We came tighter as a team, coming from behind like that.   I think that’s just the way we needed to open up the season.”

The Blue Raiders had a chance to send the game into overtime, but Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen blocked Alan Gendreau’s 47-yard field goal attempt as time expired.

The block made up for Allen fumbling a punt in the first quarter that resulted in the Blue Raiders taking an early 7-0 lead.   Middle Tennessee’s Logan Kilgore connected with Malcolm Beyah from 26-yards out.  It was one of two scoring throws on the day for the Blue Raiders signal caller who was 26-41 for 316 yards in the losing effort.

Purdue trailed 24-17 after Middle Tennessee’s Benny Cunningham scored on a two-yard run with 9:26 left in the fourth quarter.  

The Boilermakers trimmed the deficit to four when preseason All-American kicker Carson Wiggs connected on his second field goal of the day, leaving the door open for Purdue to take the lead when TerBush found Edison.

“We all knew what we had to do,” said TerBush.  “It’s good to know that we can just hustle up, no huddle, get up to the line and get plays in and have them work.  It was good to know that and gives us confidence down the road when we need that two minute drive to win the game like we did.”

Purdue used two quarterbacks Saturday afternoon.  Sean Robinson came in briefly in the third quarter, but TerBush took most of the snaps.  In his first career start, the junior went 19-33 for 219 yards.

“He had to get it done, and he got it done,” said Purdue head coach Danny Hope of TerBush.  “He’s our quarterback and we are proud of him. He’ll get a lot better from this game.”

The win snaps a six game losing streak for the Boilermakers who ended the 2010 season with a half-dozen losses in a row, including three straight inside Ross-Ade Stadium.  

“This win means a lot.  With us trying to get to a bowl this season, we need all the W’s we can get,” said Edison. 

Purdue (1-0) goes on the road to Rice next week.

Middle Tennessee (0-1) will look for its first win at home against Georgia Tech.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Purdue Will Start Season with Heavy Hearts

(Click HERE to listen to the audio version of the story)

Sean Matti will be with his Purdue football teammates when they take the field, Saturday.  He won’t be there physically, but he will very much so be there with them in spirit.

"This being the first game of our Senior year, I do think it will be pretty emotional," said linebacker Joe Holland.  "Sean's been out there with us for four years and I think it's really going to sink in when he's not out there with us."

Holland planned to share his final home opener at Ross-Ade Stadium with fellow senior Matti but it wasn’t meant to be.

Matti passed away this summer in a drowning accident.  He had been spending time with a group of friends at Lake Freeman over the Fourth of July weekend.  His friends reported him missing and his body was found two days later floating about 30-yards from shore.

Holland said that’s the type of news no team is ever prepared to handle.

"It's difficult, showing up to [practice] and putting all this hard work in and spending so much time with the football team and one of your brothers not being there," he said.  "I think it was difficult for everybody, but that's why being a part of a team is so important."

And few players exemplified what it meant to be a great teammate better than Sean Matti.

The 22-year-old, fifth-year walk-on running back from Shoreview, Minnesota was by no means one of the best athletes on the Boilermakers roster, but what he lacked in natural ability, he made up for with effort and drive.

Running Backs coach Cornell Jackson said Matti set an example for his teammates on how to act both on and off the field.

"He was always on time for everything.  Academically he was solid.  Football wise he was solid.  He was a tough guy," said Jackson.

Jackson was around Matti’s family, friends, and teammates the day his body was found and says he often thinks about the events of the tragedy.

He is still adjusting to not seeing Sean’s focused and enthusiastic face looking back at him, especially during film sessions.

"When I'd walk into the meeting, he used to always sit in the back in the left.  When I look back there, sometimes I want to say 'Sean, turn the light on,' because that's where he used to sit, by the light switch," he said.  "But he's not there.  Somebody else is sitting there now."

While Sean’s seat in the film room may have been replaced, his legacy remains.

Offensive Coordinator Gary Nord said he earned the respect of his teammates from the minute he came to West Lafayette.

Matti helped the team mostly in practice, but never displayed a defeatist attitude when he didn’t play on gamedays. Nord said that approach inspired everyone around the program.

"He was one of the hardest working guys on the football team.  He was a giver" said Nord.  "He came here as a walk-on and paid the out-of-state tuition and put in the hours that was demanded of him here in the football program.  He earned the team's respect from doing that." 

Matti’s on field reputation was gaining respect, as well.  He showed significant progress in Purdue’s annual Black and Gold Spring Game in April.

During the scrimmage, Matti rushed for 30 yards on eleven carries and caught a pair of passes for 32-yards.
Jackson expected that kind of production to translate into Matti seeing the field during the regular season.

"Sean would have played for us this year, I truly believe that," Jackson said.  "He was tough football player, very aggressive, knowledgeable of the offense."

"He wasn't treated as a walk-on.  And I'm not talking about from me, I'm talking about from his teammates.  That's important.  When you walk onto a team, you want to be liked and loved by everybody, not just the coaches but everybody, and most importantly your peers.  [The team] really admired Sean Matti," said Jackson.

That admiration is what will make not having him on the field Saturday so tough for guys like Joe Holland.
Holland anticipates the day will be filled with emotion.

He and the other Boilermakers will wear a decal on the back of their helmets with Matti’s number 22 on it. 
But, Holland said the best way to honor their fallen teammate is for the Boilers to play with passion and intensity, just as Matti always did.

"We want to make sure that we pay our respects through our play," he said.  "He really was a true Boilermaker and everything a coach could want in a college football player, very dedicated, very committed to the team, very very loyal, had a ton of pride and I think each player on this team should take it upon themselves to live out those characteristics so Sean will be on the field with us."

All of Ross-Ade Stadium will honor Sean Matti and what he meant to Purdue, Saturday, during a moment of silence prior to kick-off. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cleaning Up College Football

I recently filed a report on what can be done to fix college football in light of the recent scandals.  Click HERE to hear the feature.