November 1, 2012
Austin Appleby loves to study.
It's that commitment to preparation that earned him rave reviews at the Elite 11 high school quarterbacks camp a couple summers ago. And although he's redshirting as a true freshman this season for Purdue, he hasn't stopped preparing. In fact, he might be one of the most inquisitive Boilermakers.
"He asks a lot of questions, a lot of questions in practice. Almost too many," senior QB Robert Marve said, only half-joking. "But you can tell he wants it. You can tell the fight is there. He has good physical tools.
I like what I've seen out of Austin. I like the drive he has. Being a freshman, everything is so new and crazy, I know how that is, but he's done a good job of understanding how to work and how to get better during that time."
Appleby, who is listed at 6-foot-5, 235-pounds, is spending his fall running Purdue's scout team offense, largely splitting snaps there with fellow rookie Bilal Marshall. The primarily job for each week goes to the one of the two who can most closely replicate the opponent's starting quarterback.
But Appleby, more of a pro-style QB to Marshall's dual-threat ability, doesn't consider it a lost season, not in the least.
"I'm using this redshirt year as a year to get myself better," he said, "to take as much in from the coaches and upperclassmen as I possibly can, and use scout team to see what throws work and what throws don't work, make my reads and try to give as best a look as I can to the defense."
Appleby came to Purdue during the summer with good credentials. Before his senior season at North Canton Hoover High School in Ohio, he was named a prestigious Elite 11 finalist. But in his final year of high school, he completed less than 50-percent of passes for 1,400 yards and eight touchdowns, the statistics possibly partly attributable to other pedestrian skill players around him.
But while he was the No. 1 guy at Hoover, he's one of six playing QB at Purdue.
"This is obviously a little different, going from being a star to having to work my way back up the board," Appleby said. "With that, keeping myself motivated really isn't an issue, because I know my time is coming. This year is so important to get myself ready in all aspects for when I do get my number called I'll be ready."
On Tuesday, Appleby, along with backup quarterback Austin Parker stayed after practice, throwing to receivers Dolapo Macarthy and Charles Torwudzo. It offered one of the rare looks at Appleby at the position this fall, dropping back and throwing the ball full speed.
He looked mechanically sound and threw with zip, and he's likely doing the same as part of the scout team. Kawann Short, Purdue's All-America defensive tackle, gets a good look.
"From the beginning of the season, you can just see a dramatic change as far as him knowing his drops and the passing game," Short said, "and his awareness on the field. I think he'll be able to work his way up the depth chart and he's going to be a special kid."
Appleby is trying to hone those skills now, particularly on the Tuesdays and Wednesdays that the scout team offense is working to give the Purdue defense a good look. And he says he prepares during meetings and the rest of the week as if he's going to play on Saturday, even though there's no chance he will.
"I've always believed in preparation," Appleby said. "I've always believed that you should be mentally prepared and know as much as you can, and that way you don't have to think once the game comes. You see certain looks and it takes the thinking right out of it; you can be as fast as possible.
"My heroes in the NFL are guys like Drew Brees and Tom Brady and Peyton Manning; the similarities between them is how smart they are. They aren't necessarily the most physically gifted, per se, but what gives them an edge - and hopefully I can my edge from it too, because I'm not the fastest guy - is the preparation. And the way I'll be able to get the job done on Saturday will be with my mental preparation and getting the ball out as quickly as I can."
Appleby is looking forward to that chance. After this season, Marve and Caleb TerBush will graduate, leaving only Rob Henry as the remaining experienced QB.
But there may be room for competition.
"My goal is to get myself as ready as I can," Appleby said, "and improve in all aspects and get ready for the spring. I plan on competing for that No. 1 job. That's my goal and I'm going to do everything I can to be able to earn that."
Until then, Appleby is very likely to continue asking questions.
"I'm constantly drilling (the veteran QBs) with stuff: 'Hey, what'd you see there? Why did you go that way? How did you know to check off when the blitz was coming?'" he said. "They're usually really, really good about it. Sometimes I bother them and they're like 'Man, go ask somebody else,' but they've been awesome.
They've never turned me down ever; if they couldn't ask the question at that moment, they always made sure to come back to me and answer it."
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