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April 13, 2013
During the spring game draft last week, Akeem Hunt heard the trash talking. His teammates, especially those on the Gold team, were chirping that the Black team running back couldn't rush between the tackles.
The junior proved them wrong at times Saturday, rushing for 134 yards on a game-high 19 carries in the Black team's 14-0 win in Ross-Ade Stadium.
"I was motivated when they said that, because I know what kind of player I am," said Hunt, who also had a couple catches for nine yards. "It was just trash talk to trash talk; that's what we do with each other to motivate us to play better."
Hunt, a specialty back in his first couple seasons at Purdue, has made it his priority this offseason to convert into a more complete player. It's required him to get bigger - the 5-foot-9 Hunt reported being up to 190 pounds at the start of spring practices, up from 175 a year before - to be able to withstand the beating taken between the tackles.
But Saturday, he showed some ability to rush up the middle, although his offensive line often gave him plenty of space to work with too.
The last couple years he couldn't take the punishment, often coming in only as a long-ball hitter. He was successful, rushing for 335 yards on only 42 carries (eight yards per attempt), plus 15.7 per catch on his 13 receptions.
But he wants more.
"I'm really motivated," Hunt said. "Day in and day out, I'm doing push ups if I'm not in the weight room. I'm taking protein shakes, trying to get bigger but keep my speed. I just want to be an every-day back and run between the tackles, instead of just doing speed sweeps."
Coach Darrell Hazell says he likes what he's seen from Hunt, not only Saturday but for the spring entirely.
"I have a lot of confidence in him," the first-year coach said. "I think he's a marquee guy in this league because he does have some balance and in-line quickness, and he's got top-end speed to take it the distance. He is showing some toughness. You saw him finish a couple runs today where he lowered his shoulder and got some of those two or three hidden yards that you need from a running back in this conference.
"The key for him is to get stronger in the offseason and continue to learn the game. But where he is right now, I think he's going to be pretty special if he keeps working at it."
Sophomore defensive tackle Michael Rouse enjoyed a spring in which he saw a ton of first-team snaps.
Injuries to upperclassmen Bruce Gaston, Brandon Taylor and Ryan Isaac gave him the opportunity and he seemed to take advantage. Although he was back with the second team upon Gaston's return in the last week, Rouse thinks he's improved and ready to make an impact.
"I feel OK with (my spring), although there's a lot more room for improvement and there always will be," he said.
The 6-foot-4, 295-pounder made one of the day's biggest plays, when he hauled in a deflected Austin Appleby pass for an interception.
"When the ball popped out and I saw it, my eyes got really big," he said. "I caught it, luckily, and from there it was kind of like a blur. I didn't know which way to go, I just saw a crowd of people on the ground and figured I'd have to jump over them. I saw some of my teammates in front of me and I was like 'All right, I've played enough video games to know that you've got to be behind your blockers.' So I tried to stay behind them and tried to get to the endzone. It turned out as well as it could, so I'm happy about it."
Before the spring game, Purdue's present players got a chance to meet with the past.
About 100 or so former Boilermakers met with the current crew inside the Mollenkopf Athletic Facility. And NFL alums Bob Griese and Mike Alstott each spoke to the assembled group, sharing similar themes of not letting opportunities, particularly the athletic and academic ones they are presented with at Purdue, slip them by.
"It's a special moment now," Alstott said. "Don't soak it in later; soak it in now."
Quarterback Rob Henry says he appreciated the message.
"All of us here, for me five years, they've gone by really, really fast," Henry said. "The window of opportunity is so short, so you have to take care of every opportunity that you have. Every day you have practice, every evening when you get done with your schoolwork and you're able to get in your playbook, you have to do those things. So when Saturdays come in the fall, and you have those opportunities, you'll be well prepared and ready to take advantage of them."
Griese, a former Miami Dolphin quarterback, has a little knowledge of Hazell. One of the current Dolphins' wide receivers played at Ohio State, where Hazell was his position coach.
"Brian Hartline said he's best coach in the Big Ten. And that was strong words," Griese said.
Hazell was happy to have the alums back in town.
"That's a special group," he said. "You talk about Alstott and Griese and those other guys, it's a great tradition that they have. The passion that they have for Purdue football, they wanted our players to feel that. If we can start to feel that, then we'll do some special things around here.
"Any time you can get those great alumni back around our players and we can connect with the past and make them the present, we've got a chance."
Defensive end Jalani Phillips has spent much of the spring with the second unit, even when starter Greg Latta went down with an injury before the jersey scrimmage.
But Saturday, Phillips played as if he had a chip on his shoulder, finishing with three tackles, a sack and an interception.
"I feel like my spring went pretty well," he said. "There are times it could have gone better. But with anybody you have off days. But with the spring game, I really stepped up and really showed how the hard work will pay off."
Most of those deemed questionable for Saturday's game were held out.
Only guard Devin Smith, who had an ankle injury, gave it a go.
But Ricardo Allen, Taylor Richards, Dolapo Macarthy, Brandon Cottom, Sean Robinson, Gary Bush and David Yancey all sat out.
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