Rookie linebackers on the fast track

Ambition brought Antwon Higgs to West Lafayette a semester early; circumstance forced Dwayne Beckford to arrive a semester late.
The important thing is both freshman linebackers are on campus. In the fall, they'll probably be on the field.
During spring ball to date, Higgs has been seeing snaps with the first- and second-team defenses at strong-side linebacker; Beckford has been consistently running with the second string in the middle, with some first-team work, as well.
"I would expect both those guys to play next year, absolutely," Coach Danny Hope said. "We need them. We need their bodies and we need their ability. They're both good players and they both love football."
The 6-foot-3, 250-or-so-pound Higgs graduated early from Pompano Beach High School in Florida, hoping to prepare himself quickly to play as a true freshman.
He struggled, as most do, with winter conditioning to begin with.
"I was ready to die, man," Higgs joked.
But he quickly got used to it and has excelled on the practice field this spring, by all accounts.
"It's mostly just terminology (I have to learn)," Higgs said. "It's mostly the same kind of defense I was taught in high school, just with some more blitzes and things.
"That's what the coaches like about me, I think. I think I'm learning really fast."
Because of it, Higgs looks like he'll be in position to play come September.
"It's exactly what I hoped for," Higgs said.
Beckford arrived both late and early.
He was supposed to be a freshman during the 2008 season, but an issue with his academic transcript blind-sided him and sent him home to New Jersey for a few extra months.
The 6-3, 220-pound returned this winter, hoping to make up for lost time.
Like Higgs, Beckford is eager to play in 2009.
"It's really important to me," Beckford said. "I didn't come here to be on the bench cheering. I came here to play football."
He's had a lot to learn, but by the sounds of it, he's headed in the right direction.
"At first (in practice), it seemed like things were moving really fast," Beckford said. "But now, it's like things are starting to slow down. I'm learning the checks, the plays, the formations. It's getting easier right now."
Physically, Beckford's had a semester's worth of rust to kick off, too.
"I don't think I'm fully back to my full potential," he said, "but I think I'm getting there."
Beckford said the ordeal in the fall both "humbled" and motivated him.
"Last fall was so long," Beckford said. "But I'm here now and ready. That's what matters."
It's also critical for Purdue at linebacker, where the Boilermakers have replenished their numbers after fielding a patchwork crew at the position last year.
Hope hopes his team won't have the same issues this year, with Jason Werner seemingly healthy, a couple freshmen coming out of redshirt and the two newcomers, in particular.
"The great thing is they were able to get here mid-year," Hope said. "What a difference that makes, particularly for a linebacker, because there's so much to do with alignments and assignments and technical standpoints. ... As a linebacker, there are a lot of things you have to do right. Both those guys are very, very talented, they love to play football, they're great teammates - they care about their teammates - and they'll help us a bunch next year, and that has a lot to do with them being here mid-year.
"That's a position where we needed help, and we need help now."
Golding getting back
Sophomore defensive end Nickcaro Golding has been sidelined by an ankle problem for most of the spring thus far, but returned for portions of practice Wednesday.
"I didn't think he'd get much (work) this spring," Hope said, "but it looks like he's going to have a chance to."
Golding was one of those who was moved in a pinch to linebacker last year, but was moved back to end this spring.
"He's more natural there," Hope said. "He's bigger and stronger and he's got good get-off. And he's a really good pursuit guy. He does a great job pursuing the football and making plays that way.
"He's doing more now, too, with plays coming at him, and that's important, too. He's come a long way."
Cooke banged up
Junior defensive tackle Kris Cooke was in street clothes, propped up on crutches Wednesday.
"He has a twisted ankle and a sore back," Hope said. "He's had a tough time from a mobility standpoint. He can't protect himself out there right now, so we've got him on the shelf."
Cooke joins sophomore Nick Mondek as those defensive tackles on the sideline. Mondek has a broken nose.
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