WEST LAFAYETTE -- Purdue's Raheem Mostert wants to make this perfectly clear:
He can run between the tackles.
“I love it,” he says. “I'm not that big of a running back, but they want me to run through the tackles. I try to make the best of the opportunity I can. I try to improve every day.”
Yes, Mostert rates as the Big Ten's fastest football player -- at least without pads. He's the conference indoor track champ in the 60 meters and 200 meters, and qualified for nationals. He just ran a 10.25-second 100-meter dash.
In other words, the senior can outrun pretty much every defender who tries to tackle him in space. The problem, of course, is getting him in space.
But if he is to be the Boilers' No. 1 tailback this season and coaches are giving him every spring practice opportunity they can to prove he can handle the job (he worked with the No. 1 offense Tuesday), he has to be able to run with the big boys.
At 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds, Mostert does not put the fear of Mike Alstott into defensive linemen and linebackers. No matter. He projects as the most promising of Purdue running backs, although he'll have to beat out the swift Akeem Hunt, last year's starter. The 5-foot-9, 184-pound Hunt rushed for 464 yards, and caught 38 passes for 340 yards, but struggled running inside.
Mostert didn't do much last year, rushing for just 37 yards in limited action as he transitioned from receiver.
Still, running backs coach Jafar Williams sees the potential.
“(Mostert) progressed a lot throughout the season. The thing that he brings is he's more stout than Akeem. He can run between the tackles more," he says. “He has to focus on staying low. He wants to play so fast all the time. That's where track crosses over.He brings a physical play into it while having the ability to play fast.”
Purdue could use a tailback that combines speed and power given that it rushed for a Big Ten-worst 67.1 yards last season.
“You hope that's what he develops into,” Williams says.
What does Mostert need to do to separate himself? On the physical side, it's showing he can block, catch passes and read defenses. But it's the mental aspect that could put him over the top.
“My biggest challenge is pass protection and just improving from last year. It's understanding the defense," he says. "Coming in it was hard for me after being a wide receiver. I wasn't confident in myself and my ability to make the move. That's why I sat out most of last year. Now I'm understanding defenses a lot more. It's helping me on the field.
“I have to put my own twist to it. I have that confidence in myself. I believe in myself and if you believe in anything, you can do it. That's the attitude I take. I wouldn't say that's what separates me from the others but …" he pauses and laughs, “that's what separates me personally from the others.”
Mostert has always had big-play ability. He led the nation in kickoff returns as a freshman (33.5 yards). But consistency has been a problem. Williams wants to see if that's changed, so he's giving Mostert a chance with the No. 1 offense.
“I guess they see I have some potential,” Mostert says. “They're giving me a lot of opportunities and I'm trying to take full advantage of them. It's what Coach Williams preaches every day, 'Raheem, you've got opportunities, don't let them go to waste.' That's what I'm trying to do.”
Mostert has juggled track and football all spring and that will continue until the April 12 spring game.
“It's hard making that transition, but I just have to work and improve," he says. "I'm in football shape in that with track it's all running. But with football shape you've got to put on the pads. I'm trying to get used to that.”
The good news: Mostert is getting faster. His 10.25-second 100 meter dash at a spring break meet in California bettered his goal of a 10.28.
“That boosted my confidence, and it's carried over to football. Right now focused on football and getting into football shape and that football mentality,” he says.