One of today’s players is very well known and is a critical contributor offensively. The other player is a lesser known walk-on safety. Let’s start with the safety.
Hayden Ellinger - Fr. (RS)
Fort Wayne, IN (Bishop Dwenger HS)
6’, 215 pounds
2021 Projection: Reserve
Purdue has had great success with walk-on safeties from Fort Wayne Dwenger. That is the alma mater from multi-year starter Landon Feichter, who started his career as a walk-on. Dwenger is a medium school power in Indiana and normally makes some deep runs in the state tournament. Ellinger played a larger role for them in 2018 as a junior when Fort Wayne Dwenger went 14-1 and won the Class 4A state title, the fifth title in school history. He had 6 tackles in the state title game that was scoreless through regulation, but Dwenger won 16-10 in FOUR overtimes. Heading into the title game he had 75 tackles and ten sacks, as well as 279 yards and 3 touchdowns rushing.
Another fun fact for Ellinger? One of his teammates on that Dwenger team was Griffin Eifert, the younger brother of our own Grady Eifert. Griffin has since walk-on at Notre Dame.
Zander Horvath - Sr.
Mishawaka, IN (Marian HS)
6’3”, 230 pounds
2021 Projection: Starter
Horvath is definitely a more well-known walk-on. He joined the roster in 2017, got some mop-up duty in 2018 as a redshirt freshman (42 yards and a TD), then earned a much larger role. In 2019 he had 377 yards and 2 TDs, most of which came when he ran absolutely wild on Indiana in the double overtime Bucket Game loss. He went for 164 yards and two scores against the Hoosiers as he played in 11 games and made four starts. He had his first (and so far only) receiving TD against Minnesota.
Last season he was the bright spot of the running game. He rushed for 442 yards and two more touchdowns, going over the 100 yard mark in the first two games of the season. He had his fourth career 100 yard rushing game against Rutgers as well. Against Northwestern he showed his versatility with 100 yards receiving even though Purdue finished with just towards rushing as a team. All told in his career he has 861 yards and 5 touchdowns on 177 career rushing attempts as well as 51 receptions for 481 yards and a score. That makes him the most productive running back on the current roster.
For Purdue to have success in 2021 it needs a lot more from its running game, and that is contingent upon Horvath and Doerue. When Horvath was getting the ball last season, Purdue was good. Just look what he did to Iowa. He has the potential to be a 1,000 yard back, which would be huge.