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December 3, 2012
Akeem Shavers figured he'd come to the Purdue postseason banquet, grab his plaque for being a team captain and go home happy.
He got more than that.
Shavers, the senior junior college transfer, was named the team's co-offensive MVP with center Rick Schmeig on Monday night.
"It's crazy. I wasn't expecting it," he said. "I'm just trying to soak everything in now. This is above and beyond what I was expecting."
The team also awarded co-defensive MVPs (Landon Feichter, Kawann Short) and co-special teams MVPs (Danny Anthrop, Sean Robinson).
Shavers managed to stay productive despite quite an up-and-down season. Though he started every game, he had to deal with sharing carries early in the season with a bevy of running backs and then ultimately sharing the backfield with senior Ralph Bolden to form a potent 1-2 punch. But then Shavers got to carry the load solo in the regular-season finale against Indiana when Bolden was out with a hamstring injury, and he responded with a career-high 225 total yards.
"I'm satisfied with how I played," Shavers said of his season, "but I felt like I could always do better. Under the circumstances, it's the best I could do. So I'm not complaining about it. It works for me."
In Purdue's three-game winning streak to end the season, Shavers rushed for 289 yards, including 126 on a career-high 27 carries against the Hoosiers.
Shavers credited his late-season surge to Purdue's willingness to pound the run and keep pounding it.
"It's more from a production standpoint, once you get the ball a lot more, you understand how the defense is playing and what they're doing to try to stop you and once you figure that out, it makes it a lot easier for us to play football because we know how the defense is and to finally get in a rhythm," he said. "We sat in the locker room before each game and we like, 'Hey, they're going to put the ball in our hands, the game is really in our hands, so we have to do our best to win the game.' We told each other we were going to leave it on the field each and every game. That's what we did."
After rallying to reach 6-6 and advance to a bowl game, Purdue players then had to deal with the dismissal of their head coach and now hear all the rumors swirling on who could be the next man in charge.
Players spoke for the first time publicly Monday since Hope was fired.
"It's been an emotional roller coaster," Shavers said. "We don't know what to think. We're just leaning on Coach (Patrick) Higgins and the rest of the coaching staff to pick up where Coach (Danny) Hope would be. So just trying to take it one game on a time and focus on the bowl game."
Shavers said players hoped by winning the final three games and reaching a bowl game that it'd be enough to keep Hope around for another season. They quickly learned it wouldn't be enough - "They kind of tricked us this time. We didn't see it coming," Shavers said.
Hope met with the team the morning after the regular-season finale against Indiana.
"It hit close to home when he came in and he didn't have on his Purdue gear," Shavers said. "It was like, 'Oh, man.' It hurt."
But now the team must re-group and perform in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
"Like Coach Higgins was saying, we're going to show the Big 12 what the Big Ten has," Feichter said. "We're a pretty big underdog. There's not much more you can say about that other than not agreeing with it."
And once that bowl is done, returning players will turn their focus to impressing the new coaching staff.
"I've had to prove myself every year. That's something I think has made me be the player that I am," Feicther said. "Making sure you have to prove yourself again, that just makes sure you're not satisfied with where you've been or what you've done and makes you go that extra mile to become the player you want to be. I'm looking forward to it. Whoever it is, the team is excited."
Sally Hope was at the banquet. Danny Hope was not. She was given a standing ovation when recognized by the night's emcee and also was thanked by Robert Marve in his speech. Marve also mentioned Danny Hope, saying he appreciated everything Hope did for him.
Interim head coach Patrick Higgins had a list of people to thank, last of whom was his wife.
"Through this rough time we've all had, she's been a rock," Higgins said, choking up. "I appreciate it."
In his speech, athletic director Morgan Burke called this team "special" because it had to "compete in turbulent waters" by performing below its capabilities in October before rebounding to qualify for a bowl. The Boilermakers will play Oklahoma State on Jan. 1.
"For those historians in the room, it was 15 years ago that we had the opportunity to play Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl," Burke said. "I'm told that Oklahoma State is carrying some of the same attitude they had 15 years ago. According to the press clippings, they're kind of disappointed they have to play us. They were hoping to get to another bowl game. They regretted it last time. I have a hunch they're going to regret it again."
Anthrop on his special teams MVP honor: "It's crazy. Before the year, I wasn't even starting on any of them. It was quite an accomplishment to be able to start on all four special teams by the Ohio State game. I'm just glad I got the opportunities and Coach (J.B.) Gibboney trusted me back there. That's how it started, based off of that. I'm glad I had the teammates around to help. It's a huge team effort, especially on special teams, because one guy doesn't do the job, it's all a bust. So I reaped the benefits of the whole team doing well."
Safety Feichter led the team in tackles and interceptions in his first season as a full-time starter.
He said he never could have envisioned ending that season with an MVP, shared with all-Big Ten defensive tackle Short.
"It feels great," Feichter said. "All the credit goes to my teammates and my coaching staff. I did not expect it, but it feels good.
"It just goes to never being satisfied. I can't give credit to anybody but the coaching staff. They put me in the right positions and I do need to make the plays, luckily I've been making the plays when they come my way."
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