For as good as redshirt freshman defensive tackle Kawann Short looked this spring, particularly in Saturday's scrimmage, he still has so far left to go.
"Right now, on a scale of 1-10, I'm probably a 6," Short said. "I'm coming along slow, but I'll get there."
The massive 6-foot-4, 310-pounder looked just fine Saturday when he made six tackles, batted down two passes and recovered a fumble. The next day, he was named Purdue's top defensive newcomer this spring.
It was the culmination of an outstanding spring in which Short ran with the first-team defense, benefiting from the absence of sophomore Nick Mondek, who'd have gotten first chance at the first team had he not broken his nose.
Coaches and teammates alike believe the East Chicago native's potential is virtually limitless.
"He's going to be a great player," senior Mike Neal said, "real good when he learns how to play football. People in the Big Ten are going to have to watch out for him."
And there's the catch. For as promising as Short is, he's still learning.
He was more of a basketball player in high school, a dominant big man with explosion and leaping ability that belied his proportions.
Alongside current Boilermaker star E'Twaun Moore, Short helped East Chicago Central to a state championship in 2007.
In football, he starred on a much smaller stage at ECC, but dominated every bit as much. And he did so without really having to know what he was doing.
"In high school, it was easy because I was bigger than everybody else, like a man playing with kids," Short said. "Now, it's men. It was hard my freshman year. Now it's easier because I know what to expect, but in high school it was kind of a breeze. Now, it's all business."
In addition to being more than a little rough around the edges with his mastery of the defensive tackle position, Short spent much of last season, while redshirting, dropping weight and re-shaping his body.
He was more than 330 pounds when he arrived on campus, after admittedly skipping out on workouts in the summer in order to put extra time into his academics as he got himself qualified.
"Now, I've dropped about 20 pounds. I feel myself moving faster, moving right," he said.
But though his body's changed, his physical gifts haven't.
"The footwork never went anywhere," Short said, "and I've just gained more power from being in the weight room three days a week. Coach (Jim) Lathrop knows I'm capable of being good, so he's staying on top of me."
Short, known since high school as "K.K.," still has a lot to learn.
"There's just a lot of little stuff I've got to do right if I want to play as much as I want to," he said. "Last year, when I redshirted, I just sat back and tried to absorb everything the (starters) were doing. Now I'm getting a chance to practice as a (starter) and see how it is."
Coach Danny Hope said he expects Short to compete for a starting job in 2009; even if he doesn't win a first-team spot, he'll still play a lot.
That's a mouthful for a youngster who still "doesn't know how to play football," as he's been described.
"He needs to learn how to line up and execute his techniques on every snap," Hope said. "If you just take him and put him against an offensive lineman in a drill, he'll whip the offensive lineman almost every time.
"When you put the ball down in front of him and the rest of the offensive line there around him, it slows him down a little bit, and he has to start thinking rather than just exploding off the ball and through the man in front of him."
But once knowledge and talent line up, look out.
"Powerful, powerful, just powerful," Neal said, describing his fellow Region product. "That's all I can say about him. He's not really even that strong in the weight room, but he's a very, very, very, very powerful person, coming off the ball.
"He doesn't really even know how to play the game yet, but he's powerful. You can't move him. He's 320 and he gets those big hands on you and can do whatever he wants with you if he learns how to come out the right way."
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