Gonnella is officially listed as director of player personnel but his main job is to identify players at a national level who are interested in becoming Boilermakers. He was hired last May and this class is the first indication the strategy is paying off.
Case in point — Purdue landed tight end Jonathan Curry from Alabama, defensive end Ryan Watson from Maryland and offensive lineman Jason King from Arkansas.
Overall recruits come from 13 states — six from Florida, four from Indiana and Texas, two from Michigan, and one each from Alabama, Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
Critics will point out the Boilers only got half the number of in-state players as Indiana University, but Hope remains unwavering in his desire to target the best talent available to develop a championship-caliber program. So he hired Gonnella to search wherever was necessary to land those kind of players.
“This is a signature class in a lot of ways,” Hope said. “Paul has impacted the recruiting process.
“We have states we normally recruit in and we did a good job in going into those areas and landing top prospects, but there were several states that are outside of our normal recruiting areas. A lot of that had to do with Coach Gonnella targeting prospects on a national level.
“We signed an outstanding player, Jonathan Curry from Alabama, and that's not one of our normal recruiting areas. We're excited about the big offensive lineman (King) out of Arkansas. That's not normally one of our recruiting areas. We got Ryan Watson, a four-star defensive end out of Maryland. That's not one of our prime recruiting areas. A lot of it has to do with the efforts of Coach Gonnella.”
The 6-3, 275-pound Watson is the most highly regarded member of the class. Rivals.com rated him as the nation's No. 18 defensive end. Purdue beat out South Carolina, Syracuse and Rutgers to land him.
National recruiting analyst Tom Lemming rates the 6-3, 235-pound Curry as one of the nation's top tight ends. Last year he had 23 catches for 249 yards and a touchdown.
The 6-4, 310-pound King anchored a line that helped Pulaski Academy average 538.4 yards and 51.5 points while going 14-0 and winning the Arkansas Class 4A title.
One of the most athletic players in this class is 5-11, 185-pound receiver B.J. Knauf from Florida. As a high school senior he played quarterback and rushed for 1,769 yards and 27 touchdowns while averaging 11.1 yards a carry. He threw for 861 yards and totaled 33 touchdowns. He also played defensive back and recorded 90 tackles. He also ran track and recorded a 10.7-second time in the 100-meter dash and a 21.54 in the 200.
Perhaps the most intriguing prospect is 6-6, 265-pound defensive end Greg Latta from the College of Desert in California. He was a standout basketball player before switching to football in junior college. He's enrolled at Purdue and will participate in spring practice.
Purdue's No. 32 national class ranking is the best in Hope's four years. It ranks fourth in the Big Ten behind No. 3 Ohio State, No. 5 Michigan and No. 28 Nebraska.
“It's a ranked recruiting class, for whatever the rankings are worth,” Hope said. “It's recognized by so-called experts as being in the top three or four in the Big Ten. That's exciting news, in some ways.”