April 9, 2012

Shavers ready for bigger role

Akeem Shavers feels as though he has something to build on.

After a bowl game performance in which he gained 149 yards - with one organization naming him the bowl season's best running back - the 5-foot-11, 203-pound back thinks he can expect more in 2012.

And the Boilermakers will need it too, with fellow senior Ralph Bolden returning from an ACL injury and their other backs largely inexperienced.

"I think he's very impressive," said center Rick Schmieg said of Shavers. "He's a good runner. He never quits on a play. He's always trying to get more yards. Even in practice the other day, he broke a run, and ducked underneath someone, very impressive."

Last season, his first at Purdue after a junior college transfer, Shavers rushed for 519 yards on 111 carries, averaging 4.7 yards per attempt. He also scored six touchdowns, tying Bolden for team-high honors.

But now, Shavers could be in line to get a larger bulk of the carries. He thinks he's ready to do so.

This is Shavers second full spring, after he enrolled from Tyler Junior College mid-year. But this off-season, he feels has benefited him greatly, as his overall body strength, he says, is up significantly. It's made him more compact and more explosive, he says.

And maybe more ready to take on the rigors of the everyday pounding of the Big Ten.

"I think he has had a heck of spring," Coach Danny Hope said. "He has gained a lot of confidence. With Ralph going down, Akeem has to step up and he will.

"He has tremendous numbers. When you test him, he's very, very fast, sprinter's speed and is off the charts in some ways from a strength standpoint - he's one of the strongest guys on the team pound for pound - and he's a tremendous worker.

"He'll obviously have a bigger role next season than he did this past. … We're expecting a lot of big things from Akeem."

Shavers says he's ready to take on that featured role. He's proven capable of doing so; in the bowl win over Western Michigan, he carried the ball a career-high 22 times, averaging 6.8 yards for his total of 149.

"Coach always tells us you never know when you're numbers going to be called, so I try to stay ready at all times," Shavers said. "Honestly, that's what every running back wants: an opportunity to show what he can do and get 20 to 25 carries a game. But also knowing we have each other's back is a good feeling.

"It's what I really want. I have no problem with it, and no problem with doing it. I think I'm built for it, so I'll just try to do what I can with whatever opportunity they give me."

Shavers says he's feeling more comfortable in Purdue's offense, particularly more so than at the beginning of last season, when he had the opportunity to be Bolden's understudy. There may be no luxury now. Bolden, who tore his ACL in the regular-season finale, is trying to return this season, and Purdue has young running backs Akeem Hunt and Doug Gentry, along with wide receivers Antavian Edison and Raheem Mostert who will likely get carries, as well.

But Shavers has the opportunity to be the No. 1.

"Every one kind of saw him grow up in the bowl game, I feel like," quarterback Robert Marve said. "He's a hard-working guy, someone you don't have to get on at all about the weights. He's the type of guy who wants it; he doesn't just want to play on Saturdays, he wants to play every time he comes out."

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