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December 27, 2012
Eleven Boilermakers were absent from practice Thursday after inclement weather this week ruined their plans to return to West Lafayette.
Seven of those missing are Texans, such as starters Akeem Shavers and Ryan Russell, and are staying in the Lonestar State; they will join the Boilermakers in Dallas when the team arrives there on Friday. The other four are expected back to Purdue in time to make Friday's team flight.
"(Missing 11) isn't too bad considering all the travel problems that I'm sure people have," interim coach Patrick Higgins said after Thursday practice. "But once we knew the storm and the severity of it, we were all about safety-first. So we weren't going to put anybody at risk over a practice; it's not worth it."
The weather - flights inbound to Indianapolis were affected after a winter storm rolled through the day after Christmas - forced Purdue to cancel its Wednesday practice, expected to be the first following the holiday break. Had he held practice, Higgins estimated only about half the team would have been available to attend.
"You don't want those kids on the road, either," he said. "Even the kids in Indianapolis, to have them drive up, or Chicago to drive down, we don't want to put anybody at risk in that situation."
Sophomore Raheem Mostert was one of many who couldn't make it back to Purdue by Wednesday. The kick returner was in Cleveland, with his girlfriend's family, when his early-morning flight Wednesday was cancelled.
Finally, he got a flight in the mid-afternoon, flew to Chicago and hitched a ride with Robert Gregory down to campus.
"The airport is pretty boring, especially if you didn't have an iPad or something like that," he said. "Netflix, that's what I was doing the entire time."
So Purdue had only a day, rather than the scheduled two, to practice in West Lafayette before taking off for Dallas. The days were designed to help the Boilermakers shake off the rust after the layoff. But Higgins says they were able to do some of that Thursday.
"The tempo was good, the intensity has been good," he said. "But the execution after four days off, sometimes suffers a little bit. But we'll have a couple practices in Dallas that should ease that easily."
In Dallas, Purdue will have two practices and a walk-thru.
"We've got plenty of time to crank it up," he said.
The Cowboys have also allowed four kicks to be returned for touchdowns. And it's that latter point that has the attention of Mostert and Co.
"I'm very excited to see what their kicker has," Mostert said. "I've seen on tape the touchbacks he's kicked in, but on the others, the teams have made it happen. I'm just ready to come back and make something happen."
Mostert hasn't had as many chances as he hoped this season, due to injury. The sophomore was hurt in the Wisconsin game - he tore his PCL in a knee after an awkward tackle - and missed the next several weeks, returning only in the season finale vs. Indiana.
And against the Hoosiers, he had three returns for 82 yards, including a 59-yarder. It was a nice comeback for a player who had led the nation in kick return average a season ago.
"I wouldn't call the season frustrating, I was just anxious to get out on the field and play," he said.
Mostert, who averaged 26.8 yards on his 14 returns this season, wore a brace in the Indiana game, but says he won't vs. Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year's Day. And he's looking forward to teaming with Akeem Hunt, who played well as the primary return man in his absence.
Hunt had an average of 22.1 on his 36 returns, plus took one back 100 yards for a touchdown against Ohio State.
"With those two guys back there, if we get a returnable ball, we're always expecting something good to happen," Higgins said. "That's a nice thing."
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