WEST LAFAYETTE -- Kawann Short could have bolted. Purdue's junior defensive tackle considered picking NFL opportunity over college completion.
But reality hit him like a stiff arm -- he was projected as a third-round pick despite his first-round potential.
That was tough, but Short faced something tougher:
His mother's wishes.
“My mother has been saying since my freshman year that she can't wait to see me go across that stage as far as graduating,” Short says. “That stuck in my head. I'll graduate in December.”
As for that third-round projection …
“I felt I could do better if I came back and did what I needed to do to get there.”
What does Short need to do? He said top priorities are consistency, strength and fitness.
“I have to have that ability to not come out of the game, to not even look tired. I have the ability to change the game and change practice when it's needed. If I do that, everything will fall into place.”
Last year Short ranked eighth on the team with 54 tackles. He led with 17 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He broke up two passes (he had eight the previous season), deflected two more. He forced a fumble and recovered a fumble. Those are impressive numbers for any defensive player, let alone a 6-3, 325-pound lineman.
But the best indicator of what Short can do comes with his two blocked kicks last season, four for his career. That is why coach Danny Hope is so high on Short's potential.
“He's a guy, that if he continues to improve, can dominate a game from the defensive tackle position,” Hope says. “He's one of the top players at his position in our league.
“He was projected as a third-round pick and opted to come back and work hard and play his way into first-round status. There are some things he has to get done to make that happen. If he gets those things done, he will be an outstanding player. He can be a dominant player on a national level.”
Purdue had that kind of player in 2010, when high-motor defensive end Ryan Kerrigan terrorized Big Ten quarterbacks to earn a No. 1 NFL draft pick by the Washington Redskins. Short, Hope says, can make that same kind of impact.
“He's a 325-pound defensive tackle who has athletic ability. He's a proven player. He still has a great upside. That gives us great potential at that spot. We're way better because he's here, and the better he gets, the better we'll get. He brings a lot to the table and impacts our team in a lot of ways.”
Short's last spring impact will come in Saturday's spring game at Ross-Ade Stadium. He's one of nine returning defensive starters from a unit that failed to maximize its potential. It allowed 26.8 points, 174.9 rushing yards, 221.0 passing yards and 12.4 yards per catch last season. Purdue still finished 7-6 and beat Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, but Hope had enough. Out went defensive coordinator Gary Emanuel. In came Tim Tibesar from the Canadian Football League. Defensive backs coach Greg Burns and defensive line coach Kevin Wolthausen also were added.
“The new coaches changes haven't changed anything at all,” Short says. “We're just trying to prove ourselves. We're catching on to what they're trying to do.”
What the Boilers are trying to do the most, he adds, is play dominating defense.
“We have a great opportunity as far as having a lot of guys coming back, a lot of starters coming back. It gives us an edge. We have to take advantage of that.”
Hope sees just as much of an edge on offense, especially with quarterbacks Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve being healthy for the entire spring. While veteran Rob Henry has been limited because of last summer's knee surgery that sidelined him for the season, he's expected to be ready for August's preseason camp. That gives the Boilers the kind of experience, depth and talent at the position Hope has never had before.
“This is opportunistic for us,” he says. “The last couple of years we had a plan to play more than one quarterback to maximize our talents, but we haven't had the healthy quarterback pool to execute that part of the plan. Having all these guys back is great and unique. It gives us a lot of opportunities for the season.”
The long-term goal, Hope adds, is to produce a championship-caliber program.
“This spring we've had a lot of guys step up. We've made a lot of progress. We are significantly better in a lot of ways than at any point since I came back to Purdue. This team has a lot of qualities in a lot of areas, but we still have a lot of work to do.”