In the short time he's been in charge of Purdue's team, Patrick Higgins has tried to create a new culture, one reliant on feeling a true team bond and one full of accountability.
The former has been addressed by having team building activities, which started two days into the Boilermakers' bowl prep. Though Higgins wouldn't talk specifics, he said the players watched a short video that day and then wrote down answers off questions from the clip. Each day, a handful of players have shared their thoughts on what they wrote that day.
"All we're trying to do is learn more about one another," said Higgins, given the interim head coach label after Danny Hope was fired on Nov. 25. "We've done a couple things to help this team find out that we're all very similar because everybody comes from a diverse background and a football team is a great way to kind of eliminate stereotypes and to find out that we're not that different. We all have troubles in our lives and we all have a firm belief and a core spiritual value, so we're doing things along those lines where when I line up next to you, and he lines up next to me, we're a little closer than we were six weeks ago.
"It's something we hadn't done. It's kind of outside the box a little bit."
Higgins has done team bonding on a smaller basis before - including in a limited fashion with Purdue's group of receivers - and wanted to try it on a larger scale.
"The more you learn about one another, the more you care," he said. "The more you care, the more you're going to work for that other individual and the more you'll take delight in that other individual's successes and you'll take more heartache in his failures. So you'll try not to let him fail and you'll work harder to have him succeed and that's what we're trying to get to."
All good The grades are in, and the Boilermakers won't have anyone miss the Heart of Dallas Bowl because of academics, Higgins said.
And there's even better news: Five players had 4.0 GPAs this fall, and 42 total had at least 3.0.
According to Purdue, the five with 4.0 GPAs were Rob Henry, Jimmy Herman, Sam McCartney, J.J. Prince and Kawann Short.
Higgins said the team raised its GPA to 2.67 from 2.48 last fall. The team GPA is 2.76, he said.
"If you can do B-minus work, that's pretty darn good, especially with all the demands that are placed upon the kids in the fall semester," he said. "So we're happy with that."
Decisions will waitIt's possible the Boilermakers will have a couple juniors - Ricardo Allen and Bruce Gaston come to mind - that will check in with the NFL's draft advisory board to check in on their status.
But that won't happen until after the bowl, Higgins said.
Higgins thinks it'd be a good idea for players to test those waters.
"Why wouldn't you? You want to find out where your draft status is going to be to get a feel for it," he said. "If it's not what you want or you think it is, then you have a decision to make. It's a good knowledge base for them because then they know where they stand. If they say, you need another year, they know that and come back. It helps. The more facts you can get, the better off you can prepare yourself."
For the record, both Allen and Gaston already have said they will return for their senior seasons.
Injury updateAkeem Shavers was in street clothes on Thursday, but Higgins said there's nothing to worry about. He said Shavers has an eye infection but he's "fine."
Another starter, Sean Robinson, could be another matter.
Robinson has been wearing a boot, and Higgins said Robinson was injured in practiced last Thursday.
"Hopefully he'll be back in a limited fashion after Christmas," Higgins said.
Robinson started the team's final six games at weakside linebacker, replacing Will Lucas. Lucas had his best game of the season against Indiana in the finale, though, and should be primed for more playing time if needed.
An injury also may keep Gary Nord from making the bowl trip.
The offensive coordinator is scheduled for another surgery on his injured back in late December, and he may not be healthy enough to come to the bowl, Higgins said.
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