What do you do, if you're Purdue coach Darrell Hazell, and the Big Ten's fastest football player is in your backfield?
You get him in space, of course.
And so we offer senior tailback Raheem Mostert, last year's offensive invisible man, this season's projected game breaker.
“We have to do a good job of getting him to the second level,” Hazell said, “because he will erase a lot of angles.”
Last season Mostert had little football action to erase anything but fans' memory of him. As a tailback he totaled just 37 yards on 11 carries, then added six more yards on one catch. As a kickoff returner, he averaged 23.5 yards, 10 yards less than his nation's best production as a freshman. He did have a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as a reminder of his potential.
Hazell hasn't forgotten.
“The nice thing about him is he doesn't look like he's running fast. He's just gliding. He's so smooth. Guys will take the improper angle and they'll pay for it.”
Mostert took out any lingering football frustration by joining the track team in January and making instant impact. In the Big Ten indoor meet he won the 60- and 200-meter dashes, and scored 23 of the Boilers' 61 team points. He was named Big Ten athlete of the meet. He went on to earn All-America honors in the NCAA indoor meet in both events.
In the Big Ten outdoor meet Mostert won the 100 and the 200, and scored 33 of Purdue's 79 team points. He again was named athlete of the meet, then earned outdoor All-America honors. Along the way he had a wind-aided 10.15 100 time, with a wind-legal best time of 10.28.
The result -- he is Purdue's male athlete of the year and is in the running -- literally -- to be named Big Ten athlete of the year.
“Raheem winning in the indoor championships did a world of good for his confidence, and ours as well,” Hazell said. “He walked differently. He smiled differently and he played football differently. He played stronger. He played with a lot more confidence. Now winning the outdoor 100 and the 200 will help us even more. The guy is fast. He runs a 10.15 occasionally and a 10.2 consistently. That's fast.”
Mostert's big spring took away a lot of the spotlight from the quarterback battle.
Yes, Hazell insisted, there is a battle.
Danny Etling is the projected No. 1 after starting the final seven games last season as a true freshman, but veteran Austin Appleby and freshman David Blough still have a chance to supplant him as a starter, said Hazell, who wants to make a final decision early in August's preseason camp.
“We waited three weeks last year (before naming Rob Henry as the starter), and I want to have it done after that first week this time,” Hazell said. “They are all doing well. It won't be an easy decision. We have three good players on the roster with Austin, David and, obviously, Danny. They're working extremely hard. It will be fun to watch them play.”
What will be the key in naming a starter?
“The big things are not turning it over and how well they can run the offense quickly,” Hazell said. “We're so far advanced with the schemes than we were last year. They have to be able to take control of the offense, do what we're asking them to do, and, most importantly, take care of the ball.”
As far as recruiting, Purdue has six commitments with this week's addition of Columbus East tailback Markell Jones. The three-star prospect is only 5-9 and 205 pounds, but he makes things happen. He rushed for nearly 2,700 yards and more than 40 touchdowns last season.
Beyond football, Jones is drawn to the Boilers' highly regarded aviation department.
Previous commitments were from Texas defensive back Andy Chalf, New Jersey athlete Robert Ennis, Indianapolis offensive lineman Matt McCann, Kentucky quarterback Elijah Sindelar and Mishawaka long snapper Ben Makowski.
The Boilers also are well positioned to land two-star Cincinnati defensive back Jeff Christian, whose only other Big Ten offer is from Minnesota. He had an unofficial visit to Purdue on Tuesday, and plans to make a decision this fall. Michigan, Kentucky and North Carolina State also are in the mix, although they haven't offered yet.