“It was a really difficult decision,” he said about enrolling at Purdue in January.
Etling gave up his final season of high school basketball, plus a chance to hang out with friends, family and everything else that had made his life so comfortable and familiar in Terre Haute, to accelerate his football development.
“I really wanted to play basketball,” he said. “I haven't not played basketball since I was a kid. It was sad to leave all my friends and all the senior things you only get to do once in a lifetime.
“But this was a big opportunity for me. (Purdue) coaches wanted me up here. They said it was best for this team and for me. It was a good choice for me. It's given me a huge advantage just in getting myself adjusted to grades. That's been the biggest thing — the grades and academic help here.”
Etling is the highest rated of Purdue's incoming players. He was the first recruit new coach Darrell Hazell visited when he got the job.
Etling projects as the quarterback of the future, if not this coming season (the opener is Aug. 31 at Cincinnati), then certainly in future ones. The sooner he got to campus and began learning the offense and everything else associated with college life, the better.
So far, so good.
Hazell said during Thursday's Big Ten teleconference that Etling has “tremendous poise for a guy who should be at his prom. He has a lot of football ability. He's going to be a good player.”
Hazell also said Henry, Etling and redshirt freshman Austin Appleby are all in the starting mix.
“We have three capable guys. Henry is a good leader and has thrown the ball well. Appleby has done a nice job of battling for the position. We'll keep the position open, probably into the fall.”
Etling's first taste of college game experience came in last Saturday's scrimmage. According to GoldandBlack.com, he was 12-for-17 for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Not good enough, Etling said.
“I need to be more consistent,” he said. “I was forcing the ball down the field when I shouldn't. Just little rookie mistakes. I'd do one good thing, and then a couple of bad things. I've got to be more consistent. That's the only way I'm going to improve.”
Etling's improvement comes under the direction of offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach John Shoop, who has run offenses in the NFL as well as North Carolina.
“Coach Shoop lets me know when I make a mistake,” Etling said. “He says I'm just a senior in high school right now. The scrimmage was one of my bad games. He's looking forward in the future to see what I can do with a good game.
“Coach Shoop talks about pocket presence, knowing the protections and how I can do things. That will all come with time. Coach Shoop is going to make me more consistent. The other quarterbacks will hold me accountable, too.”
Etling's move to No. 2 on the depth chart shows that the coaches appreciate his accountability.
“I think they're seeing a lot of good things from me,” Etling said, “but they know I have a lot to work on. They let me know that. They're trying to put me in situations where they can assess how I'll deal with the stress of being a starting quarterback or a backup quarterback.
“They haven't told me if I'm ready to play or when I'll be ready to play. I plan to be ready when they call my name. Right now I'm definitely not there. I have eons to go.”
Those eons include mastering an offense that is far more complex than what Etling dealt with in high school.
“It's like taking another class,” he said. “It feels like a six-credit class.
“Every day all the quarterbacks are with coaches working on it. The coaches want you to learn this. They have an open door.”
Etling's next public shot is Saturday's spring game at Ross-Ade Stadium. The Boilers had a draft to choose the Black and Gold squads. Etling and Henry are on the Black team.
Hazell hopes Saturday's game showcases the goals he had at the start of spring practice — a smarter team, a tougher team, a team that takes care of the ball and improved special teams play.
“We've made major improvements,” he said.
Etling is proof of that.
Up nextSpring football game: Saturday, 1 p.m., Ross-Ade Stadium
Online: For more on college athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.