Countdown to kickoff: No. 8

Just eight Saturdays are left between now and the Sept. 1 season opener against Eastern Kentucky, and today we bring you our picks for the eight high achievers of Purdue football since 1997.
Obviously this is a rather subjective list, but it was compiled on the basis of players who were relatively unheralded coming out of high school and who went on to have successful careers at Purdue (and beyond, for some).
No. 8: Gilbert Gardner
The Texan was recruited as a relatively unheralded wide receiver, but by the time his first training camp finished he was the Boilermakers' starting middle linebacker and an All-Big Ten- and NFL player-to-be. Most importantly, his contributions as a freshman helped Purdue to a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth.
Gardner eventually moved to outside linebacker where he became part of some of the best defenses Purdue's ever known, a group that had four linebackers who'd go on to play in the NFL, the others being Landon Johnson, Joe Odom and Niko Koutouvides.
No. 7: Rob Ninkovich
Now a veteran linebacker for the New England Patriots, Ninkovich wasn't heavily recruited out of junior college, nor was he recruited with much clarity about what he'd be doing. Some schools recruited him as a defensive end, others for tight end.
But for a team loaded with talent at D-end, Ninkovich carved his niche, both on defense and as a goal-line tight end and red-zone receiving threat.
No. 6: John Standeford
When the skinny Monrovia native showed up at Purdue, no one ever could have envisioned him being an instant-impact player on a Rose Bowl team or, for a brief time, the Boilermakers' all-time leading receiver.
But the lanky former small-school Indiana high school player caught 62 passes and six touchdowns from Drew Brees as a rookie in 2000, weighing maybe 180 pounds over his 6-foot-4 frame.
As a junior, Standeford was one of the Big Ten's dominant receivers, averaging 17.4 yards per catch and scoring 13 touchdowns, including his improbable fourth-down game-winner at Michigan State that year.
For one year, Standeford's 249 career catches were a school record, soon to be broken by ...
No. 5: Taylor Stubblefield
A last-second scholarship offer was made to the Washington native and quickly accepted.
Five years later, Stubblefield was the NCAA's all-time leading receiver, before his mark of 316 catches was broken by Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles.
Not bad for a diminutive 160-something-pounder who'd have gone to Washington State had Purdue not offered late.
No. 4: Tim Stratton
The unheralded tight end came to Purdue as part of the Boilermakers' 1997 recruiting class, Joe Tiller's hastily thrown-together first signing class.
A big receiver in high school not exactly blessed with receiver speed, Stratton's hands and savvy quickly proved to be a perfect fit in Purdue's pass-happy offense and a nice complement to Drew Brees' pin-point passing and uncanny field awareness.
Stratton won the John Mackey Award in 2000, recognizing him as the top tight end in college football, and held the distinction of being Purdue's all-time leading receiver for all of one season.
No. 3: Ryan Kerrigan
Kerrigan isn't quite at the top (or bottom?) of this list simply because he was a reasonably touted recruit who held some decent offers and would have gotten more had he not committed to the Boilermakers in the summer.
But Kerrigan was a modestly rated lineman who was actually recruited by Purdue (and probably others) with defensive tackle in mind.
But the Muncie native quickly worked (literally) his way into a contributing role as just a true freshman and by the time he was a senior, he was a consensus All-American.
No. 2: Dustin Keller
The record-setting wide receiver from near-by Lafayette Jefferson broke a commitment to Toledo to sign with Purdue when the hometown team finally offered.
He arrived on campus as a big and wildly productive, but slow by receiver standards, wideout, but left a veritable freak of nature, a 250-pound muscle with blazing speed and outrageous athleticism for his position.
No. 1: Drew Brees
How ironic is that an ACL injury of all things might have been one of the best things to ever happen to Purdue football?
Had the quarterback not injured his knee in high school, chances are someone in Texas or some program with a higher profile than Purdue's at the time would have snapped him up.
Instead, Brees landed at Purdue, rewrote its record books - and the Big Ten's - and left as a transcendent figure whose influence on the program and university can't be overstated.
Today, he's a Super Bowl champion, potentially a Hall-of-Famer one day.
Previous Countdown to Kickoffs:
Countdown to Kickoff: No. 9
Countdown to Kickoff: No. 10
Countdown to Kickoff: No. 11
Countdown to Kickoff: No. 12