WEST LAFAYETTE – Doubt has no place in Ralph Bolden's football world. The Purdue tailback has worked too hard, pushed for too long. Can he be the runner he was before he suffered his second major knee injury?
Why even ask?
“Of course I can come back,” he says. “I'm Ralph Bolden. It's still in me. Even though I got hurt, it's still in me.”
Bolden has no intention of letting a little thing like ACL surgery ruin a good thing. He did, after all, rush for 935 yards in 2009 and would have surpassed 1,000 yards if he hadn't been limited to just one carry for four yards because of an ankle injury in the season finale against Indiana. He missed all of last season because of the knee surgery.
After nonstop rehab, Bolden's intensity is back, his game-breaking speed has nearly returned and, yes, he can take a hit.
“I had a chip on my shoulder the whole time I was working out and getting ready,” he says. “I've got something to prove. I'm going to try to be the comeback player of the year.”
To give an idea of how explosive a healthy Bolden can be, consider his first two games in that 2009 season when he rushed for 234 yards and two touchdowns against Toledo, and 123 yards and two TDs against Oregon.
“I remember that like it was yesterday,” he says. “We had a great offensive line and a lot of them are coming back. I hope we can repeat a lot of that.”
Bolden knew he was fully recovered early in the summer, but needed contact to prove it. In the first live scrimmage of preseason camp, Bolden got his chance during a goal-line drill. He tried to score once and got stopped on the two-inch line. He got the ball again, got hammered by the defense and still scored.
“I was teasing the defense about it before I got the ball,” Bolden says. “I said, ‘You won't be able to tackle me.' Then they really got me. That's what I wanted. Get it out of the way. That was the only thing I was worried about. Take the contact and see how the left leg felt.”
How did it feel?
“Pretty good. I'm ready to go right now.”
That's great news for coach Danny Hope.
“It was a high-tempo drill, he took a bunch of shots, punched it up there and scored,” Hope said. “They couldn't stop him.”
Bolden will run behind a revamped offense line. Rick Schmeig went from left guard to center; Peters Drey went from center to left guard. Nick Mondek went from right tackle to right guard. Justin Kitches, a defense tackle last year, is at right tackle. Dennis Kelly stayed at right tackle.
Veteran offensive lineman Ken Plue's status remains uncertain. He's dealing with academic issues.
Quarterback Rob Henry has missed several practices because of illness, including on Sunday, but is almost certain to start in the Sept. 3 season opener against Middle Tennessee. Robert Marve is still out with knee issues, making Caleb TerBush the backup and Sean Robinson No. 3.
Also, Purdue is looking to add one more quarterback for its recruiting Class of 2012. Ohio's Austin Appleby has committed. Tennessee quarterback Matt Kuivinen recently made an unofficial visit to campus.