January 26, 2012

Exit Interview: Justin Siller

Justin Siller had quite the career at Purdue, from a brief starting gig as a quarterback to a university-imposed academic suspension to becoming a critical piece to the Boilers' bowl victory.

But through it all, he's stayed pretty level-headed, especially now after the maturity gained from five years of highs and lows. Following, GoldandBlack.com sits down with the Detroit native, who ended his career as a receiver and Wildcat quarterback, for an extended "Exit Interview."

GoldandBlack.com: You've had quite the career, with a lot of ups and downs, from the game vs. Michigan at QB early in your career to the university suspension to back again as a receiver. What do you think of it?
"I think what sticks out in my mind is through the adversity that I faced, it's about working to get back where you want to be, where you think belong. Everybody has ups and downs, but it's about how you work to get back to where you belong. That's what separates people."

GoldandBlack.com: With all you've been through, how different a person are you know compared to five years ago?
"I think I pay a lot more attention to detail. With football and school and juggling those, just the detail and being on top of everything has been a big part of being successful. With those two things, I pay a lot more attention to detail and I'm more precise in knowing what I have to do and planning accordingly."

GoldandBlack.com: Part of feeling that way stems from what happened with the suspension, right?
"Right. A lot of that does have to do with that. I kind of got a crash course. I don't wish that upon anybody, but the lessons I learned from that are unparalleled and those life lessons helped to mold me into the person that I've become and am proud to say that I am."

GoldandBlack.com: Is there any part of you that's glad it happened, because you feel like you matured now as a person? Or is that too much to say?
"I don't know if I'd say glad it happened. I'd say that any benefit that you can get from what you go through in life makes you a better person. In some sense, it was a crash course, it happened quickly and was not the way I wanted it to happen, but life lessons learned from it definitely made me a better man."

GoldandBlack.com: What was the most difficult part of that suspension?
"The most difficult was being away from the game of football and being away from my teammates for such an extended amount of time. I was very close with a lot of guys on the team and I couldn't be around them as much as I would have liked to or as much as I was accustomed to. I wanted them to focus on their season, so I didn't want to be around and be a distraction to them or whatnot. I kind of kept my distance and did my business on my own, and came around more and more as the time came for me to join the team again."

GoldandBlack.com: I'd imagine it was pretty embarrassing more than anything, right, having to face friends, family and teammates?
"At first it definitely was. I was still kind of embarrassed for myself and my family, having made the mistake and therefore having to deal with the consequences. At first it was very hard for me and embarrassing but as time went on I had to get over it and proceed to move forward so that I wasn't constantly looking back and staying in the same place."

GoldandBlack.com: How much did it mean to you to have Coach Danny Hope almost immediately support you. I remember the day you got suspended, he said he'd welcome you back in a year.
"Very appreciative. Coach Hope could have went a different direction and gave my scholarship to a younger guy that they wanted to bring into the program. So I was very pleased that he held my scholarship and held a spot for me and welcomed me back. He was a big part of me getting through this process. Him along with Coach Nord and Rock was there with me through the whole process as well. Without those guys helping me and giving me a foundation to work with and help me make a decision, it could have went a totally different direction."

GoldandBlack.com: How do you mentally deal with that because when you come to a Big Ten university, particularly as a quarterback, you're sort of the Big Man On Campus. But then suddenly, you're not. How do you deal with that without just wanting to run and hide?
"I think part of it is that I knew what was done was done and there's nothing I could do about it at that point. The best I could do was to show people that OK, I just made one mistake, I'm still the same person - well, to a degree, I'm still the same person I was - I'm a better person for the mistakes I made, and the best way to show them was to do what I had to do to get back to doing what I love to do, and that's play football. That's why I had to work a little bit as well as take classes and keep myself in good enough shape to where when I do come back I'd be effective and help the team win. I think mentally it's just knowing that you can't do anything about it and you just have to move on. My family and my support system helped me move on and look toward the future."

GoldandBlack.com: You've remember pretty mum on exactly what it is that you did. Do you want to remain that way?

GoldandBlack.com: Before, you've alluded to feeling like the university used you as an example, that it didn't have to suspend you. What are your thoughts now?
"In the handbook, it says there's a number of things that could have happened punishment-wise. Given my academic standing at the time, it might have been a little harsh, but the punishment was not out of the ordinary for the crime. It's a judgment call; it could have went a different direction but it didn't and I was upset at myself than them for making a mistake and putting myself in that position. I just had to move on and deal with it."

GoldandBlack.com: Speaking of moving on … Are you happy about how you're season ended? You played, oddly, all three positions you had previously in your career in the bowl game, at receiver, quarterback and running back. Did you go out on top?
"I think so. It was a really good ending to a nice career for our seniors, getting Purdue back to prominence and helping them regain some power and respect in the Big Ten by beating some good Big Ten teams. I think the blueprint has somewhat been laid and the young guys on our team know what needs to be done. We won four Big Ten games and we're 4-4 in the Big Ten and got to a bowl game. They know how to win now, where as the guys in the program didn't really know how to win. We were just, not going through the motions but we're accustomed to winning as much, but now the young guys will know what it takes, know the hard work you have to put in. Coach Hope is doing a good job getting the right coaching staff around the program and around the guys, high-character people around. We did a good job, as far as the seniors, with getting the program headed in the right direction."

GoldandBlack.com: Is Hope the right guy for the job?
"Definitely. Coach Hope is the right guy for the job and I think he showed that by improving each year. In each of his years, I think his team is much-improved and each year he'd had significant injuries and still has managed to have big wins and successful seasons. He always finds a way to get it done and never makes excuses for himself or us if we don't get it done. And he holds us accountable, which is what guys our age need."

GoldandBlack.com: By the end of your career, did you feel like a pretty good receiver?
"Yeah, I'd say so. The improvement that I made my freshman year, switching over a couple positions, to this past season is unparalleled. And I think a lot of that is Coach Higgins being a part of my career and helping me to grow as a receiver and a player, and prior to that Coach Hope and Coach Nord, just staying on me and letting me know what I need to work on and what I need to do as a player. And then it's just me taking their advice and using the tools around me to get better, get stronger, and make improvements from one year to the next."

GoldandBlack.com: Take me back to that Michigan game, what were you thinking at that point. You play one of the greatest games by a Purdue quarterback ever, at a school that has produced a few good QBs. Are you thinking then that you're on top of the world and going to lead Purdue to Rose Bowls and play in the NFL one day as a QB. Where's your head at that point?
"At that point, I was sitting pretty high. I was a young guy, 19 at the time, and beating Michigan that's a hometown team for me - I grew up watching Michigan - so to beat them as a starting quarterback, after playing quarterback my entire life was a great experience for me. At that time, I was a young guy, I was thinking 'One win. I did it.' But in actuality, it was only one game. I think it was a bit much for me at the time, just given my age and maturity level. But it was definitely a very positive experience for me and one of my more memorable games in my college career."

GoldandBlack.com: I never got the impressive from you, though, that you were absolutely bent on playing quarterback your whole career. How important was it? And with everything that happened, did you just feel like you needed to play no matter where it was?
"I think at that point in my career we had Curtis Painter and of course he was a great quarterback in our system, threw for a lot of yards, had a lot of touchdowns and a lot of success. I was chomping at the bit to get on the field, so I'd help the team in any way that I could. I kind of had that attitude my entire career, so when Jaycen Taylor got hurt and Coach Tiller talked to me about running back, I was all for it. I think at that age, and at that time, any way to get out there I was going to do it. Whether it was a quarterback, running back or receiver, any way they could have used me I would have done it. After my troubles, It was the same situation really, we had Rob Henry and Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve had transferred in, so it was a cluster at quarterback with a lot of good talent. So however Coach Hope wanted to use me, and it was at receiver, I was going to do. It was the second chance that I had, another opportunity to play, so I was just chomping at the bit to play. I don't think quarterback, whether it would have been quarterback or not, wasn't a big deal to me."

GoldandBlack.com: Would you have beaten Joey Elliott out for the starting spot in 2009, had you not been suspended?
"(laughing) I might have. Of course, I'd say yes. But Joey had a very, very productive season that year. We're two different kind of quarterbacks, but who knows?"

GoldandBlack.com: There probably would have been room for both of you to play, right?
"Yes, especially given my skill set and his skill set."

GoldandBlack.com: Are you trying to play in the NFL?
"Yep, I'm currently training in Kansas City right now, and I've been doing this for about two weeks now and I'll see if I can make it to the next level as a receiver. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep doing the sport that I love."

GoldandBlack.com: You've graduated, right?
"I graduated in December, with a bachelor of science in retail management and my associates degree in organizational leadership."

GoldandBlack.com: That must have been a proud moment, considering everything.
"Considering everything I've went through with the University and the ups and downs, it was a very proud moment for my mom and dad and my brother. It was a very big accomplishment for me."

GoldandBlack.com: What will you do if the NFL doesn't work out?
"I don't know. I guess go get a job like any other American. I'm not sure exactly what I want to do, but grad school is still another option. I don't know right now."

GoldandBlack.com: Who would you pick as an offensive break-out player next season?
"I'd probably have to say Akeem Shavers. He's a guy who came on really strong late in the season. You saw in the bowl game he was able to take over the game with his running ability, produce some numbers and help the team sustain drives and control the ball. He's a guy that can really turn it on and have a big year for Purdue offensively."

GoldandBlack.com: Who will be Purdue's starting quarterback?
"(laughing) I don't know. I think all the quarterback possess the ability and command to start for Purdue and lead Purdue to a very successful season. I don't think Purdue can go wrong with any of the quarterbacks, and I hear that one of the younger quarterbacks come in is also very good, so I think the competition will bring out the best in all of them. Really it's about whoever is hot at that moment throughout the practices will get the shot."

GoldandBlack.com: How about a defensive break-out player?
"A young guy not a lot of people know about is probably Frankie Williams. He's a very good quarterback and I got to go against Frankie on the scout team this year and he's a very physical corner, a very good athlete and very good returner as well. So I think he can make some noise on defense and returning as well, and be able to make an impact with Purdue's defense."

GoldandBlack.com: Offensive and defensive MVPs next season?
"I'd say offensive MVP will probably be Rob Henry, just based on the different things he can do. He's a very fast and explosive player, as well as being a quarterback. He can run it or throw it. Whether he's the starting quarterback or not, you'll be able to move him around and give defenses some problems.

"On defense, I'd probably have to say Kawann Short. He's a very outstanding defensive tackle, a very explosive player as well. It's very hard for an offense to contain him, so he's got a lot of talent, a lot of upside."

GoldandBlack.com: Pick a team captain for 2012?
"I'd go with the easy choice and say Kawann Short."

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