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Welcome to the Fold: Bruce Gaston

It is the rare double article day at Hammer & Rails, but it is worth it. First, I was bored at work and this was far more exciting that staring that the walls. Second, we got ourselves a big-time recruit yesterday with St. Rita (Chicago) Defensive Tackle Bruce Gaston. I was going to wait until Signing Day before I said more about Gaston, but in reading an article on ESPN's Mobile Web (worth every penny now that I turned it on) I could not wait. Here is a smattering of quotes from the big man:

"I see us possibly winning a Big Ten championship, compete for a national championship. That's what I see. That's what I expect from the school and the program."

"Now I'm there, my goal is to keep working out and get into shape, coming in and try to play as a true freshman, get me a spot on the team."

I know this will make me a crazy home, a crackpot, a delusional fan, and someone who "doesn't know anything about college football" when I say this, but I love that this kid has set these goals before himself. Why else do you play the game if not to win? If Notre Dame can delude itself into thinking it is still a national power, why can't we? I mean, we were one play worse than them last year, and they were talking national title last season.

Welcome to West Lafayette, big man!

One player does not make a national title. Several players, working in concert with the same goals, makes a true contender. You also need, as Alabama showed this past season, a spot of luck such as two blocked field goals from one player and the opposing team's Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback getting hurt. Every team has its own luck in getting there, be they Florida in 2008 (friendly BCS computers), LSU in 2007 (The entire college football world going nuts, Florida in 2006 (Ohio State crapping the bed), and so on. For every team that steamrolls its way to a title you have five that survive at least one game they have no business winning. Even the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, arguably one of the best teams of the last 25 years, needed and interception by a defensive tackle to survive a win at Boston College.

You don't get to that point of luck, good or bad (see Purdue: 2005), without solid players that are dedicated to the goal of winning championships. This young man is highly talented, he has lofty goals, and he knows that he has some work ahead. That is one of the key factors here. He knows it is not going to be handed to him from the beginning. He knows he has to get in better shape and that work must be done off the field too. That is the attitude I want from my football team. Here is what his coach, Todd Kuska, had to say about him:

"I think he's a kid who can come in physically and be ready to help on the field. He's got some fine-tuning to do as everyone has to do making that adjustment. They're not getting a finished product by any means, but he's got a lot of upside. He's strong, physical, and quick. Those are things you can't teach. You got to do them." - St. Rita coach Todd Kuska.

We know he is not a finished product. If he was, this kid is a potential five-star recruit instead of a high three/low four. You can't argue these points though:

  • He's already 6'2"
  • He's 290 pounds for a position that needs size
  • We beat out Notre Dame, Michigan State, Boston College, and Wisconsin for him, making him a "national target"
  • He had 99 tackles and 16 sacks as a defensive tackle!!!!

You don't get 99 tackles a defensive tackle, even in high school, unless one of two things happens: Either teams are too stupid to run into the middle of the line against a clear division I talent, or he is active all over the field. I don't think he got 16 sacks with quarterbacks running directly at him or standing still in the pocket. For years we have had dominant defensive ends that have gone on to the NFL while defensive tackle has been a sieve against the run. This past year we had two dominant-at-times defensive tackles in mike Neal and Kawann Short. That made for a huge difference in some games, specifically the upset win over Ohio State. In that game, as in other, we had success because we had defensive tackles that could get into the backfield. Neal and Short were pass rushing threats just as much as Ryan Kerrigan.

Neal is gone to the NFL now, but Short is back for three more seasons. Now we get a guy like this that can contribute immediately for four seasons. I don't think he immediately replaces Neal's production, but with Gooden, Short, and Kerrigan all returning he will be in the mix with everyone else. He also won't play unless he can contribute a lot based on what we have returning at the position.

This is a good pickup for another reason: We won a press conference derby. I know the press conference where kids announce their choice is getting more popular, but we're starting to win these things with name teams in the mix. That gets the face of the program out there. The fact there is an ESPN article up right now talking about a kid choosing Purdue for football is a very good thing. There hasn't been this much good news since Robert Marve chose the University of Purdue on College Football Live last year.