Purdue Recruiting Rewind: 2000
The fourth class of the Joe Tiller era was built off three bowl appearances in a row. And the quality showed. This was a program on the rise that players wanted to be a part of.
“We feel like this is the best class we’ve been able to recruit to Purdue,” said Tiller back in 2000.
The late Tiller was prescient in his observation. This 2000 class produced five NFL picks (Stu Schweigert, Kelly Butler, Gilbert Gardner, Niko Koutouvides, Jacques Reeves). And a few non-drafted players (Taylor Stubblefield, Joey Harris, John Standeford) dipped their toes in the NFL after making significant impacts in West Lafayette.
The 2000 talent haul was paced by 12 offensive players, with five receivers signing. Texas and Ohio were tapped for four signees each in this 23-member class. As Purdue showed results on the field, it was better able to battle for a higher-caliber recruit.
“We won our share this year,” said defensive coordinator Brock Spack. “We won a lot more than we lost.”
Among the gems: Schweigert, QB Brandon Hance, RB Joey Harris and Butler. But maybe the best of all was a guy who was a walk-on: C Nick Hardwick, who didn’t join the program until his sophomore year in 2001. The Indianapolis native was just a backpack-totting student in the fall of 2000 who attended the Rose Bowl as a fan. Hardwick would go on to author an incredible journey, becoming a Purdue and NFL stalwart.
Tom Lemming rated the class 29th in the nation and seventh in the Big Ten. The collection of talent was highlighted by a group of receivers that Lemming felt was the third-best in the nation: Gardner, Standeford, Gary Heaggans, Stubblefield, Conor Corcoran and Andre Henderson.
It’s also worth noting: After Purdue inked 15 JCs the first three years under Tiller, it signed none in 2000.
Highest ranked offensive signee: QB Brandon Hance. The 6-1, 190-pound Hance was rated the seventh-best signal-caller in California coming out of Taft High in Woodland Hills, Calif. Hance, who had offers from Michigan State, Minnesota, Clemson and Virginia, was the heir to Drew Brees.
Hance was the starter in 2001 as a sophomore, hitting 52 percent of his passes for 1,529 yards with eight TDs and 10 picks. But he gave way to true freshman Kyle Orton and eventually transferred to USC where he played a bit in 2003 and 2004.
Props to RB Joey Harris, who arrived from Oak High in Klein, Texas, as a Prop 48 with a fat scrapbook and lots of hype with offers from Texas A&M, Miami (Fla.), Washington and Baylor. The speed demon ran for 1,115 yards in 2002 but was academically ineligible in 2003. Harris never played another snap.
And don’t forget about 6-8, 250-pound OT Kelly Butler of Grand Rapids, Mich., Union High, the most touted offensive line signee for Purdue in a generation. He turned down Michigan and ND. Butler was a prototype NFL offensive tackle. Butler turned pro a year early.
Most productive offensive signee: WR Taylor Stubblefield. He lacked size (6-1, 165) and hailed from remote Yakima, Wash., boasting offers from Washington and Washington State. Despite arriving with little fanfare, Stubblefield went on to be an all-time great, leaving Purdue as the NCAA career leader in catches with 325 and earning consensus All-American honors as a senior in 2004. Fans never will forget his fist-pumping 97-yard TD catch at Notre Dame as a senior, when Purdue beat the Irish for the first time in South Bend since 1974. Classmate John Standeford wasn’t too bad, either, making 266 career grabs. He excelled as a true freshman on the Rose Bowl team, making 67 catches (second on team) with six TDs.
Highest ranked defensive signee: DB Stuart Schweigert. The versatile athlete from Saginaw, Mich., was one of the top recruits in the entire Tiller era. And Purdue landed him over the likes of Michigan State, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan. The speedy Schweigert didn’t disappoint, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors on Purdue’s 2000 Rose Bowl team. He was a fan favorite who had his own cheering section: Stu's Crew. Schweigert started the moment he stepped on campus, setting the school record for career interceptions with 17. He was first-team All-Big Ten in 2001 and 2003 and still ranks No. 9 in school history in tackles with 360.
Most productive defensive signee: LB Niko Koutouvides. A lightly regarded prospect from Plainfield, Conn., via Mllford Academy, Koutouvides blossomed into a two-time first-team All-Big Ten linebacker. He turned down Iowa, Syracuse, Maryland and BC before tabbing Purdue. Koutouvides went on to get picked in the fourth round of the 2004 draft by the Seahawks and play in the NFL.
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Didn’t blossom: Hance. It’s tough to be the guy who follows "the guy." Hance had the resume of a big-time player. He arrived early, but it didn’t pan out for him as the heir to Drew Brees. Instead, Kyle Orton became the next standout Purdue signal-caller. Hance packed his bags and left West Lafayette after the 2001 season.
Most underrated: ATH Gilbert Gardner. The 6-2, 205-pound Gardner arrived with the idea of being a wideout, but he quickly moved to linebacker in training camp and became a starter and key cog on the Rose Bowl team after turning down Baylor, Houston and Tulane. He was a third-round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft by the Colts.
Also have to mention CB Jacques Reeves, who turned down Iowa, Iowa State, SMU, TCU and Louisiana Tech. The 6-0, 180-pound product of Lancaster (Texas) High didn’t have an elite list of suitors, but he developed into a quality corner in West Lafayette who subsequently was picked in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Cowboys.
Highest NFL Draft pick: Schweigert. The agile and dynamic free safety was tabbed in the third round (67th overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Raiders.
The one that got away: As Purdue produced results, it became involved with a higher-caliber of player. It competed hard for the likes of WR Johnnie Morant (Syracuse), LB Jovan Witherspoon (Notre Dame), DB Domonique Foxworth (Maryland), TE Quinn Sypniewski (Colorado), Tony Brown (Tennessee) and Carlos Perez (Florida).
Who played in the NFL: FS Stuart Schweigert (3rd round 2004/Raiders), OT Kelly Butler (6th round 2004/Lions), LB Niko Koutouvides (4th round 2004/Seahawks), CB Jacques Reeves (7th round 2004/Cowboys). While he was a walk-on, it’s worth noting C Nick Hardwick was the first Boilermaker off the board in 2004, going in the third round (66th overall) to the Chargers.
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