It took a big-time demotion to truly prepare Caleb TerBush for the big-time role he now occupies at Purdue.
About a week before the 2010 season kicked off, Purdue declared TerBush academically ineligible. After pushing Robert Marve for the starting quarterback job the previous spring, TerBush had to sit and watch the entire season. Injuries wiped out Marve and backup Rob Henry. Purdue eventually had to turn to a true freshman (Sean Robinson) and a wide receiver (Justin Siller) at the quarterback spot, while TerBush, by far the team's best option by then, could do nothing to help.
"It was definitely a tough period," TerBush recalled.
But in the end, a valuable one. Rather than sulk at his situation, TerBush took charge of the scout team. As a third-year player who had seen the field in 2009 (albeit briefly) and who had stood out during spring practice, TerBush had more experience than most of the players in his unit.
The same holds true these days, as TerBush is the team's No. 1 quarterback and a fifth-year senior captain. Although Purdue returns nine offensive starters from 2011, TerBush is one of the old men in the meeting room. That's where his scout-team experience comes in handy.
"I was able to work on skills with younger players and communicate with them," he recently told ESPN.com. "That's helped me now. I get along with a bunch of younger kids. It's easier for me to talk to them now. I’ve been where a bunch of them have been before."
While TerBush started every game in 2011, helping Purdue to its first bowl game and bowl victory since 2007, his position as a leader seems more solidified now. Head coach Danny Hope made it clear after spring ball that TerBush is his No. 1 quarterback, even though Marve is back for his final year and Henry, the team's projected starter until a week before the 2011 season, is back from an ACL injury.
A year as the starter helps TerBush command respect, but a year on the scout team remains the pivotal stretch of his career.
"Going through that experience has definitely humbled me," he said. "There was a period before that where I was taking things for granted, and it caught me in the butt. I was happy to get a second chance. It made me respect the game more, and make myself work that much harder to make myself better and not take it for granted again."
He views the starter's tag in a similar light.
"For coach to keep naming me the starter, it's an honor, and I'm not going to take it for granted," he said. "But it's just part of it. You've got to come in every day, ready to work."
TerBush put up decent numbers in 2011, completing 61.7 percent of his passes 1,905 yards with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. He'll have most of his weapons back for 2011, including receivers Antavian Edison and Gary Bush, Wright and running backs Akeem Shavers, Ralph Bolden and Akeem Hunt.
Hope has been open about calling the 2012 Boilers his best team in West Lafayette. TerBush sees things a bit differently.
"There's always room for improvement," he said. "When you say you're the best, you kind of put limits on what you can do. I'd say we're a better team than last year, but we control our own fate. We have to put in the same amount of work as last year, and even more, if we want to achieve our goals."
TerBush learned the lesson on the scout team in 2010. Despite the setback, he controlled his fate, and his work helped him reach the top of Hope's depth chart.