- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Darrell Hazell's job requires him to evaluate all of Purdue's players, but he knows some position groups better than others.
Before taking his first head-coaching position at Kent State after the 2010 season, Hazell coached wide receivers at five different schools: Eastern Illinois, Western Michigan, Army, Rutgers and Ohio State, where he worked with the Buckeyes' wideouts from 2004-2010. Hazell also was an all-conference wide receiver at Muskingum University, where he still holds team records for career receptions (132) and receiving yards (1,966).
After coaching standouts such as Santonio Holmes, DeVier Posey and Anthony Gonzalez, Hazell can spot a potentially great receiver faster than most. He sees one in DeAngelo Yancey.
"He's the guy in the room that's different from everyone else," Hazell recently told ESPN.com. "We need to get him to play different than everyone else. He can be a very special guy."
Yancey had a somewhat special freshman year despite Purdue's struggles. He led the Boilers with 546 receiving yards, 206 more than any teammate. Yancey twice eclipsed 100 receiving yards in Big Ten games and was responsible for two of Purdue's three longest plays from scrimmage before the offense ignited in the finale against Indiana.
Only six other FBS freshmen averaged more receiving yards than Yancey in 2013. But he can do so much more.
"He's arguably one of the best players on the field every single time he's out there," Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby said. "He's just got to play like it every single time. That speaks to his maturation. He's still very young, but that doesn’t matter.
"We all know how talented he is."
Yancey recognizes what others see in him. He knows he has to bring it out more this season for a Purdue offense that ranked last in the Big Ten in points and yards (119th nationally in both categories).
Several weeks ago, Hazell gave Yancey some practice tape from Hazell's time at Ohio State. Yancey watched players such as Posey and Ted Ginn go through the same drills and work on the same concepts as he is this spring.
Hazell doesn't often bring up his time at Ohio State, so there was a purpose when he did.
"He sent those guys to the league," Yancey said, "and ultimately that's where I want to go."
Hazell thinks Yancey is similar to some of his former Buckeyes wideouts.
"He's got size, he's got speed, he's got quickness, he's got the ability to catch around people," Hazell said.
An Atlanta native, Yancey initially committed to Kentucky but switched to Purdue last January after feeling unwanted by the new UK coaching staff. The 6-foot-2 wideout showed up to campus at around 200 pounds but quickly added 20 to his frame.
It took time to adjust to the extra weight, but Yancey felt comfortable running by the end of the season. It also took time to adjust to the responsibility placed on his shoulders.
"I was [surprised] early during the season, but once the season started progressing on, I embraced the role," he said. "When the big plays were needed, I took it upon myself to try and make them."
Yancey's Year 2 goals include more yards after the catch and being a leader.
"When I first came here, I wouldn't say stuff, or I would think they already have that leader position," he said. "But we've established if you're going to be a leader, make sure you're doing leader things, no matter what year you are."
One of those things is film study, which Yancey is doing more of this offseason. Hazell wants the rising sophomore to gain greater confidence against press coverage.
"We can do things structurally and schematically to help him," Hazell said, "but you'd rather have him figure it out first, how to beat man-to-man coverage, whether you're stuck in the boundary, whether you're to the field."
When he figures it out, look out.
"You'll see as time goes on, he's going to be huge for us," Appleby said. "We've just got to keep working every single day to get that killer mindset, that killer instinct to go get it. Because it's going to be one on one when the game is on the line, and everybody in the stadium is going to know who's getting the ball, and he's got to make a play."