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August 10, 2012

Countdown to kickoff: No. 3

With training camp in full swing and just three Saturdays left between now and the Sept. 1 season opener against Eastern Kentucky, I offer up my/our* picks for the top three defensive ends since the "Den of Defensive Ends" became part of Purdue's football fabric in 1997.

When one considers that five Boilermakers (Rosevelt Colvin, Akin Ayodele, Shaun Phillips, Anthony Spencer and Ryan Kerrigan) since '97 have made first team All-Big Ten and one more (Cliff Avril) was tabbed second team, this wasn't any easy choice. Even Rob Ninkovich is worthy of consideration as the lone Boilermaker ever to have four sacks in a game ... twice.

* That is why I consulted Brian Neubert and Kyle Charters on this one ... and surprisingly we were in relative agreement.

No. 3: Shaun Phillips (2000-03)
Maybe it was because he wore three different jersey numbers (53, 22 and 15), but offensive lines had a hard time picking Phillips up (aka blocking him) on a consistent basis.

Phillips earned first team All-Big Ten his senior year of 2003, anchoring one of the best Boilermaker defenses in recent memory. His 14.5 sacks in '03 put him just one-half sack behind the Boilermaker single-season standard bearer Colvin. His 33.5 career sacks ties him with Kerrigan and is 1.5 behind ... you guessed it, Colvin.

Not surprisingly, Phillips' athleticism has translated into a standout NFL career. At Purdue, his athleticism shone as he is the lone defensive front man to be ranked in all-time pass breakups list, tied for 15th with Carl Capria and Tim Seneff, a pair of DBs. He had 23 in his career.

No. 2: Ryan Kerrigan (2007-10)
My guess is this is where the debate will start as to who should be at the top of the list. I will admit I had Kerrigan on the top of the list, but my colleagues had him second.
But we are splitting hairs here.

Purdue fans know Kerrigan's story like the back of their hands: consensus All-American in '10, national leader in sacks, two-time first team All-Big Ten and the like.

No player in Purdue history played with more intensity and with a higher motor. He ranks fifth all-time in tackles for loss (57), the aforementioned second in sacks and and has the third best single-season marks in TFLs and is tied for the fourth highest total of single-season sacks (with Jeff Zgonina).

Kerrigan's numbers are made all the more impressive considering he drew so much attention from opponents. In 2010, the Boilermakers won only four games, and Kerrigan was often perceived as one of the few threats on that side of the ball for Purdue.

It goes without saying that Kerrigan made the most of his ability.

No. 1: Rosevelt Colvin (1995-98)
Colvin's impact on Purdue's football program is hard to measure. Like so many of his classmates, he toiled in mediocrity for two years, suffering back-to-back losing seasons his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Yet, the reason Colvin tops our list, albeit barely, is because he was instrumental in changing Purdue's culture defensively, a move that permeated through the entire team. He gave the defense swagger and confidence and helped it be one of the most opportunistic units in Purdue history in 1997 and good enough to shut down No. 4 Kansas State the following year.

Colvin is Purdue's all-time sacks leader with 35 and second only to Zgonina in TFLs with 61, but his "ears-pinned-back" style of play did as much as developing the "Den of Defensive Ends" as anything or anyone else.

Here's our countdown to date:

Countdown to kickoff No. 4--Best quarterbacks
Countdown to kickoff: No. 5--Worst weather games
Countdown to kickoff: No. 6--Top walkons
Countdown to Kickoff: No. 7--Best assistant coaches
Countdown to Kickoff: No. 8--Greatest recruiting surprises
Countdown to Kickoff: No. 9--Biggest heartbreaks
Countdown to Kickoff: No. 10--Greatest individual performances
Countdown to Kickoff: No. 11--Greatest comebacks
Countdown to Kickoff: No. 12--Biggest victories

Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.

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