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OTT salutes the 2008 Football seniors

A quick basketball note: I made it up to the Eastern Michigan game tonight since my tickets didn't sell. Lewis Jackson certainly looks like the real deal. JaJuan looks so much more confident with the basketball and could be a beast for us. Rebounding is still an issue, but this team is even more balanced in scoring than I thought. All eight players in the main rotation are capable of starting and dropping 10-15 at any time. They turned it on after a slow start and simply blew an inferior team out of the gym. All-in-all, a very nice game.

Saturday will be the final time that we see 19 seniors play for the Old Gold and Black. It will be a bittersweet day. While these guys will leave Purdue scattered among the record books, they will unfortunately leave as a group that missed out on two bowl games in their four years. It’s hard to explain why too. Both years in which bowl games were missed had expectations much higher than the two seasons that did end in bowl games. Individually these seniors were very impressive throughout their careers, but their final legacy will sadly be left with a poor record on the field. Still, we must honor these guys. They have played hard and no one has to be more frustrated than them.

What follows is my tribute to each senior, with a top highlight or two for each. Feel free to add your own memories in the comments section.

#2 Torri Williams – safety – No one has had a harder time seeing the field than Williams. He technically could apply for a medical redshirt and possibly return next season, but signs indicate he may not. Injuries ended his 2005 (broken leg), 2006 (shredded knee), and 2007 (torn Achilles) seasons before they really got started. It was great to see him finally have a full season this year. Torri was long expected to be one of our better players in the secondary, but injuries constantly got in the way. He is still this team’s second leading tackler and he added an interception at Michigan State as well. His off-the-field issues clouded his tenure almost as much as his injuries, but he has still been one of my favorite players to watch when he has played. For a career highlight, I remember Torri having an interception and long return against Toledo last year. It stands out because of the smile and relief he felt at having returned from a devastating knee injury in the 2006 opener.

#3 Frank Duong – safety – Frank Duong is a fan favorite. He’s a 5th year walk-on that was barely recruited, yet put in the time and toil behind the scenes to earn a starting job this year. He made his mark early as a special teams maniac. I love this guy because he plays with absolute reckless abandon. He’s not the biggest, fastest, or strongest guy out there, but he more than makes up for it in heart. His career highlight definitely had to be his interception return for a touchdown against Central Michigan this year.

#4 Fabian Martin – cornerback – It’s hard for me to have a highlight for Martin because he’s seen spotty playing time in a crowded defensive backfield the past few seasons. Still, I appreciate his contributions to this team. He’s actually played, which is more than I’ll ever be able to say.

#6 Desmond Tardy –wide receiver – Des has done a little bit of everything for us. This year is the first year he was a starter, but he has been on and off the field for four years. Against Hawaii two seasons ago, he had a big touchdown pass to Selwyn Lymon that nearly won us the game. He’ll be remembered mostly for his big plays, like last year’s TD return to open the Minnesota game and this year’s hook and ladder. Some would say he should have been on the field more before this year, but that is open to discussion. Overall, his career deserved more PT.

#12 Curtis Painter – quarterback – His struggles this season have been well documented, but I wanted to focus on his positives. Curtis will leave Purdue as the #2 passer statistically in Big Ten history. He’s thrown for more than 10,000 yards and has topped everyone except Drew Brees in both the Purdue and Big Ten record books. Last season’s Motor City Bowl was not just one of the best games ever by a Purdue quarterback, it was one of the best bowl games ever by any college signal caller. Curtis got the starting job under tough circumstances when he was a last minute replacement for Brandon Kirsch against Wisconsin in 2005. He handled himself well and started every game until a shoulder injury against Minnesota this year. While his senior season wasn’t quite what it was supposed to be, he has still done a lot right to be where he is in the cradle of quarterbacks.

#18 Roberto McBean – wide receiver – He only has one career reception, but this senior has been on the field and contributed in practice. Unfortunately, he’ll likely be remembered more for his drops this year more than anything.

#19 Brandon Whittington – wide receiver – What stands out to me about Brandon is that he has one of the biggest smiles in the program every Saturday. He’s a guy that has done a little bit of everything at Purdue. He probably has the most receptions of anyone who has never gotten into the end zone, either. In 2005, as one of the readers below pointed out, he even filled in as an emergency DB. Hopefully he will be rewarded on Saturday by finding the end zone after so long. He has filled in nicely as a possession receiver this year.

#21 Greg Orton – wide receiver – This was supposed to be the big year for Greg, but it didn’t pan out as the offense struggled. When he came to Purdue he was supposed to tag team with Selwyn Lymon and help us dominate the Big Ten. He and Lymon were the highest rated receivers we’ve ever gotten. Lymon obviously didn’t wok out. Orton, meanwhile, put up solid numbers behind guys like Dustin Keller and Dorien Bryant before being the number 1 guy this year. As our only deep threat, he has done well. His Motor City Bowl performance a year ago was probably his best game as a Boiler. I only wish this season had not been so frustrating for him. He deserved better.

#24 Kory Sheets – running back – My wife will actually miss Kory more than I will, if it is possible. She started coming to games with me full-time during the 2004 season, so she has seen his entire career. In that time, he became her favorite Boiler, so much so that she bought his jersey last year. She had a small chance to show her appreciation during the Michigan game when she spoke to Kory’s mom in the restroom before the game. She knows running backs, having seen the likes of Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee, Frank Gore, Clinton Portis, and Najeh Davenport, among others, in her time as a student at the U. She believes Kory could be as good as them. I will miss Kory as well. He has given us twice of everything he has this year. Having just an 11 game schedule as a freshman and missing bowl games twice has cost him three games. Because of that, he will finish just short of Mike Alstott on the career rushing list. No one found the end zone more than Kory though, and that record could stand for a long time. Of his numerous highlights, I like a very early one. His first career touchdown came in his first game when he returned a blocked punt for a touchdown against Akron in 2005. Kory has always done well against Indiana, so Alstott may not be out of the woods yet. I would love to see his final game be similar to Mike’s performance against the Hoosiers in 1995.

#42 Anthony Heygood – linebacker – Originally a running back, Heygood will be cashing NFL checks next season as a pretty good linebacker. Against Michigan State, he crossed the 100 tackle threshold for the season. He is the first Boilermaker to do so since Niko Koutouvides in 2002. He’s been our best linebacker the past two years when we have needed good linebackers the most. This year he has been one of the best in the Big Ten. That is saying something, especially in a conference known to produce great players at the position every single year. If he does not receive some all-Big Ten recognition, they need to stop making such lists. Ironically, I will remember him for one of his few rushing plays, as his 62 yard fake punt run against Michigan paved the way for one of the few bright spots this year.

#45 Jermaine Guynn – defensive tackle – Like Duong above, Guynn represents all that is right with the game in terms of heart and hustle. He is another walk-on that has earned his way to being a valuable contributor. Guynn has played extensively the past three seasons mostly because our defensive woes have forced him to. Still, his energy and enthusiasm will be sorely missed.

#51 Garret Miller – offensive tackle – Garret is a player that, sadly, will not be participating on Saturday. He will limp through the pregame festivities as a foot injury at Ohio State ended his career much too soon. Injuries are a big reason we have struggled so much this year, but that is not his fault. Miller has the size to get a look from some NFL scouts, so hopefully he’ll be healthy enough for scout day before the draft.

#62 Andy Huffman – long snapper - Andy Huffman has been the perfect long snapper. I say that simply because very few people know his name. If we had issues in this area everyone would know his name. Huffman has battled some injuries this year like so many others, leading to others seeing playing time (and struggling) in this spot. Still, he has given us everything we needed here for many years. That makes him very difficult to replace in a position where they only know you if you screw up.

#71 Alex Magee – defensive end – One of Magee’s most memorable plays came from being in the right place at the right time. As we were freezing in the cold and wind at Illinois in 2006, Magee fell on a fumble caused by Anthony Spencer on a sack of Juice Williams. That fumble happened to be in the end zone, so we got to see a big guy spike the ball and everything. That play set up a win that gave us bowl eligibility in a season after we had missed the postseason for the first time under Tiller, so it was a pretty big play. This year Magee has been a big presence on the end we have sorely needed at times. He easily could be playing on Sundays this time next year.

#74 Sean Sester – offensive tackle – Sean is another player that has seen his final year cut short due to injury. Because we were relying on him for much, that has hurt the team as a whole. He has shown versatility in playing both tackle positions. He’ll likely play some against Indiana, and he has a decent chance of being drafted as well. Still, this is not the way he expected to end a long career at Purdue.

#78 Cory Benton – center – Cory is the fourth former walk-on now playing in a starting role during his final season. He has been all over the place, starting on the defensive line before switching sides and being named the starting center this season. I loved the story he had in the season preview this year of hiking the ball to a spot on the wall in practicing his shotgun snaps. He’s been banged up a bit this year, but he has still been a solid contributor and is currently the only healthy remaining offensive line starter.

#80 Jerry Wasikowski – tight end – Jerry has been a blocking tight end for most of his career, but has come on in recent weeks as a pass catcher since Siller has looked to other options. He saw more playing time this year since Kyle Adams got hurt on the season’s opening kickoff, so he has made the most of his opportunity. When has gotten he ball, he has made some big plays. He had a huge 3rd down catch where he lunged for a first down after contact against Michigan this year. It was a big play at the time, as it kept a scoring drive alive.

#83 Joe Whitest – wide receiver – This is another wide receiver that has had a case of the drops, but his first career catch along the sidelines at Illinois in 2006 was a highlight-worthy play. It was one of the best catches I have ever seen a Purdue player make. He hasn’t contributed much this year, but he was named a team captain before a suspension stripped him of that. He missed the Ohio State game because of it, but he’ll have one more chance to make an impact Saturday.

#90 Ryan Baker – defensive tackle – He's last on the numerical list, but he may be the senior who is missed the most because of the way he contributes on and off the field. This is one of the guys that you really have to feel for because of how he invests himself in this team. It physically pains him to lose because he puts 100% effort into every play. He is the epitome of a student athlete, making the Academic All-Big Ten team in each of the past three years. He’s also a contributor off the field through charity work. I love this year’s story of how someone placed a giant #90 jersey on the Boilermaker statue to honor him. He reminds me of Drew Brees in that he makes Purdue look good in every possible light. We were lucky to get him over Notre Dame, as he openly admits to agonizing long and hard over that decision. I am glad he chose us, because he is a treasure. His leadership and tenacity will be missed.

To the group as a whole, I thank you for your time and contributions to Purdue. You have been a large part of this blog from the beginning. You have helped make it into something larger than I could have ever dreamed of. I will be there Saturday when you go out and bring the Bucket home where it belongs.