Purdue's Kawann Short wasn't about to break a graduation promise to his mother. He also wasn't going to ignore the Ryan Kerrigan example.
So he passed on NFL draft opportunity. He stayed in school for his senior season.
Will it pay off in a huge Purdue senior season, a degree in organizational leadership and supervision, and a multi-million-dollar NFL opportunity, as it did for Kerrigan, his former Boiler teammate now a very rich member of the Washington Redskins?
We're about to find out.
Short is the 6-3, 310-pound defensive tackle poised to dominate opposing offenses. He can stuff ball carriers, sack quarterbacks and make offensive linemen wish they were anywhere but on a football field facing him.
Can he do it for an entire game and season?
That's the big question.
“He has a great upside,” coach Danny Hope said. “He hasn't maximized on his potential yet. If he plays his best on a consistent basis, he'll be one of the best players in the country. He will be a first-round pick. The ball is in his hands. He's in charge of his own destiny. He's smart enough to figure that out.”
Here's what Short has figured.
First, his mother wanted to see him graduate, and the last thing he wanted to do was disappoint her. That pretty much ensured he wouldn't give up his senior year to enter the NFL draft.
“She said, 'I can't wait to see you walk across that stage.' I said, 'Anything to make you happy.' That was my No. 1 goal.”
The NFL was a close second goal. Short did his research after last season and learned he was projected as a third-round draft choice. That was the same round as Kerrigan was projected after his second-team All-America junior season.
Kerrigan returned to school, earned first-team All-America honors as a senior defensive end in 2010, and wound up being a first-round pick of the Washington Redskins. That meant a four-year contract worth $8.72 million.
He was converted to a linebacker last season and challenged for NFL defensive rookie of the year honors.
“Coaches bring that up all the time,” Short says. “Playing with him and seeing what he did pushes me to have that high motor and follow in his footsteps. Be dominant like him.”
Short has shown flashes of dominance throughout his career. He was first-team All-Big Ten last season after totaling a team-leading 17 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Impressive, but not maximizing his ability, which was why he was looking at a third-round selection.
“I could have worked my way up (during the NFL combine and team workouts), but I didn't want to take my chances,” he says.
So Short returned to school, which could pay off for him and Purdue. The Boilers could challenge Wisconsin for Leaders Division supremacy and a berth in the Big Ten title game.
“He kept a promise to his mother and I really admire that about him,” Hope said. “And he can play his way into the first round, and potentially a high first-round pick. Ryan Kerrigan did that and significantly increased his compensation package. He's a great example for Kawann.”
Kerrigan thrives with relentless energy and effort that Short has yet to match. He said his tendency to take off plays has to change.
“The main thing is being consistent. I wasn't that dominant guy every play. One play I am, the next I'm not there. Two seconds later, I'm that dominant guy again.”
A Purdue graduate assistant made a tape of Short when he went full go, and when he didn't.
“Just watching it, it wasn't acceptable,” Short says. “I'm not that guy to be doing that. It probably came because I was tired, but I can't let it show.”
Short has worked to improve his conditioning. So far, so good, Hope said.
“I expect him to be a top leader on our team. He's a big man. He looks different. He's greatly reduced his percentage of body fat and significantly increased his lean muscle mass. Those two factors alone will pay huge dividends with his stamina.”
Short understands he will be a marked man. Offensive coordinators will game plan to neutralize him while teammates will count on him to make big plays at key moments.
“I have to be that guy everybody depends on. I have to set a good example of being that best role model and the best big brother anybody could have. Not let things get to me. Stay out of trouble.
“Basically, stay humble to the process. I still have to prove myself. I can be this No. 1 guy, but if I don't show up, a lot of things can drop. I've got to do what I'm capable of doing.”