Among the many things that was missed last year was a proper senior sendoff for the 2020 Football seniors. They got to play four more games in Ross-Ade Stadium, but playing in an empty stadium on a cold, gray December Saturday wasn’t exactly a great sendoff. This year we get confusion, and it is a confusion that will continue for a few years. Since last year doesn’t really count in terms of eligibility we will have several seniors that could potentially return for another year because of the COVID exemptions. Even this year we have three players that would have been done after last year, but they chose to come back for one final free season.
According to the roster there are 18 seniors. Four of them are definitely gone as they came back for their “free” year this year. The remaining 14 could, in theory, return for next season, but they would count against the scholarship limit unlike the three that came back this year. With these 18 we also see the final remaining players that were recruited by Darrell Hazell. Next year should be the first full team built by Jeff Brohm.
Let’s revisit the 18 seniors.
Jackson Anthrop – WR – Next year is going to be odd because it will be the first year in more than a decade that an Anthrop is NOT on a Purdue athletic roster. Jackson is completely a Purdue guy, too. He is now in his sixth year, having originally signed as a member of the 2016 class, which was Hazell’s final full class. In his first career game against Louisville in 2017 he burst onto the scene with two TDs. He had two more to liberate the Bucket from a four year exile later that season. He currently has 139 receptions for 1,283 yards and 10 TDs. He also has a 145 yards rushing and two more scores. Jackson does everything. He didn’t complain when Rondale Moore came in and took many of his snaps. When Purdue needed running back help this year, he moved. He returns kickoffs and punts, plays all over the field on offense, and will leave Purdue as one of the longest tenured players ever. If Purdue wins the Bucket, he absolutely should be the first to pick it up.
Greg Long – OL – He of the Stone Cold Steve Austin celebration at Iowa, Long came back for another go-round after transferring in as a graduate from UTEP. He has been an anchor on the offensively line, helping it grow by leaps and bounds as the season has progressed. He has not been with us long, but it says a lot that he came back after only being here last season.
Semisi Fakasiieiki – LB – The last of the old men, I once doubted he would even see the field as a low 2-star recruit in the 2016 class. Instead, he has also become one of the longest tenured players. After a redshirt year in 2016 he became a steady reserve and special teams player. He has 52 tackles and a sack in his career, but a leg injury in fall camp caused him to miss all of this season so far. I suppose there is a small chance he sees the field in the bowl game, but he is still a guy that has given Purdue six years. Enjoy your graduate degree, Semisi.
Tyler Witt – OL – Witt got recruited by Jeff Brohm twice, as he redshirted for him back in 2016 at Western Kentucky. He is yet another graduate transfer from Western Kentucky that came in to steady the offensive line. He has done just that as a solid offensive guard. He, like Long, is a guy that paved the way towards this line getting better and hopefully the young guys see his example as a way to build for the future.
Mitchell Fineran – K – The first of the players that could, at least in theory, come back next year, Fineran has done well as a one-year graduate transfer from Samford. His 19 made field goals is the third best single season mark in school history, and with two games left he could get the record of 25 set by Ben Jones in 2003.
Dedrick Mackey – CB – I have to give Mackey a ton of credit. Rivals lists him as committing on August 11, 2016. That was roughly two months before coach Hazell was fired, but he stayed on board through the coaching change and has become a leader on defense. He has 98 tackles in his career and six interceptions, three of those picks coming this season. His goal line interception this year against Michigan State was a huge play that cemented that upset.
Aidan O’Connell – QB – Talk about a guy many thought would never see the field. Few programs count on walk-ons to become starting quarterbacks. Even when that does happen, it is usually a result of a disaster in terms of injuries. AOC has had a fairytale career with four game-winning fourth quarter drives to his credit, three coming in his first four games with significant action. This season he is on fire with 2,900 yards passing despite not seeing a lot of action in the first four games. He stands to leave Purdue with ALL-TIME records for passing completion percentage (currently 68.6%, almost 5% over the record) and passer rating (143.7, 10 over the current record, ironically held by his backup Jack Plummer). On Saturday he will likely move into the top 10 all-time on the passing yardage list at Purdue. You could not ask for more from him.
Nick Zecchino – LS – We heard of his story back in September when he played against his old team at UConn. Here is a guy that missed multiple seasons due to several abdominal surgeries. That he is playing Division I football is a small miracle. He has been a steady longsnapper for three years now.
Zander Horvath – RB – Like O’Connell, Horvath started as a walk-on and has become a solid contributor. He was on quite a run of 100 yard rushing games last year before the season fell apart. This year he was the starter before a broken leg caused him to miss several games. He has not been 100%, but he has come abck to give Purdue at least something on the ground. All told he had 1,076 yards and 7 TDs in his career as well as 62 receptions for 552 more yards and a score.
Kieren Douglas – LB – Douglas has quietly had a very good year at linebacker. He is 4th on the team with 51 tackles. He transferred to Purdue after spending a season at Army and has evolved from special teams player to starting linebacker. He has 66 tackles in his career and got his first career interception at Iowa on their opening drive.
Sam Garvin – OL – Yet another former walk-on, Garvin started 11 games the last two years before injuries this year have limited his play. He has seen action in just one game this season, but he is another lineman that has provided leadership as younger guys developed.
DJ Washington – OL/DL – Washington has been a versatile player in his career. Before this year he played in 10 games and even had a start on the offensive line. This year he shifted to the other side of the ball to provide depth at defensive tackle. He has five tackles as a reserve.
Robert McWilliams III – LB – McWilliams has not been a regular starter in his career, but has seen some action in a handful of games as a reserve while spending five years in West Lafayette. He officially has five tackles and is already working on a master’s degree.
Austin Burton – QB – Burton took a risk coming to Purdue as a grad transfer last year. Playing time was not guaranteed, and he didn’t see the field at all last year. This season we have seen him in a few games. He has completed five passes for 44 yards and has 31 yards on 12 rushes as a pseudo-wildcat QB.
DaMarcus Mitchell – DE – The former JuCo transfer was a major force in last year’s abbreviated season, so it was hoped that a full season with George Karlaftis he would thrive. Unfortunately, injuries have limited him to spotty appearances in seven games. He has just 16 sacks, but he does have 2.5 sacks. He can clean up the opposite side from Karlaftis.
Chris Jefferson – S – Jefferson came to Purdue as a grad student looking for a chance. He was a Division II All-American at Findlay and could have taken a shot at the NFL Draft, but he wanted to prove himself on the big stage in a Power 5 conference first. He has been a solid reserve playing a lot of snaps. He has 28 tackles with four passes defensed and he got his first Purdue interception on a tipped pass at Nebraska.
Zac Collins – P – Purdue has struggled punting the ball this year, and Collins has had a look. The walk-on from Louisville had 33 punts in 2019, 10 punts a year ago, and had a punt this year at UConn. Still, he has been around the program for a while.
Jaylan Alexander – LB – Alexander is the rare true freshman that sees playing time in the Big Ten at linebacker. That has made him a strong four-year contributor. This year he leads Purdue in tackles with 88 and he also has a sack. On Saturday he crossed the 200 tackles mark for his career.
We all know Saturday is very likely the last game for the following juniors, as they are projected to be high round NFL draft picks.
David Bell – WR – Is he the best receiver in Purdue history? It’s entirely possible. Because he is leaving early and due to last year’s weird season he will play about 2.5 years. He is still going to finish his career with more than 3,000 yards and with another 101 yards he will set the single-season Purdue record for receiving yards. He has 21 career touchdowns (20 receiving, 1 passing) and would have more this year if teams weren’t terrified of him in the red zone. He is one of the best players in the country in 2021, and is so smooth and polished it’s not even funny. Rondale Moore was excellent. He was explosive and could blow open any play with an inch. Bell a little different. He is just the complete package as a receiver. He has all the tools and knows how to get open on every play. If he had a normal four year career at Purdue he would absolutely obliterate every career receiving record. He’ll be making a lot of money in a few months.
George Karlaftis – DE – In the end, the actual numbers will not be eye-popping. Big George only has 91 career tackles and 13 sacks. He also has an interception and a handful of fumble recoveries, one he returned for a touchdown. He is still a potential first round pick because he has been absolutely disruptive even while fighting through holds and double (or even triple) teams. He is a PROBLEM for teams. He may not get to the quarterback, but he causes chaos just by always being in the area. I wish there was a stat for that. They aren’t sacks, or QB hits, or even hurries. They are mostly an “Oh, I see you over there so I am going to go this opposite way right now, thank you.” Can we call that “the Karlaftis”? Purdue’s defense is vastly improved this year. Everyone is playing better, but Karlaftis demands so much attention it makes everyone else’s job easier. There is a reason Purdue has picked everything off at the end of these recent wins. George can tee off and cause rushed throws that everyone else gets. George will also be making a lot of money in a few months.
These 20 guys have given us a lot. They have gone through a lot given the challenges of last year. I am proud to have them in the Purdue family.