Big Ten: Cornell Jackson
Akeem Shavers stepped into Bolden's place and earned MVP honors in the Little Caesars Bowl win over Western Michigan, rushing for 149 yards on 22 carries. That was just shy of doubling Shavers' output in any regular season game in 2011, yet he wasn't too surprised by his performance.
This season, Shavers may no longer serve as merely a backup plan. Bolden is not practicing this spring as he tries to recover from his third torn ACL since his senior year, leaving Shavers as the team's No. 1 back. The team is hopeful Bolden can come back and regain his effectiveness, but no one is quite sure what to expect after from him so many injuries.
"I'm trying to stay optimistic in my mind that he'll come back and be fully recovered," Shavers said. "I try to tell him every time I see him, 'Bro we've got to get it . I don't care if your knee is messed up or not, we've both got goals to reach.' I try to keep him motivated, and he tries to motivate me."
Shavers was in this same position last spring as a mid-year junior college transfer, taking first-team reps as Bolden worked his way back from injury. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder says he's a totally different player this spring.
"When I first got here, I could barely stay on my feet," he said. "I just tried to go as fast as I could, and I'd end up tripping or something. I've gotten a lot better with my balance, my patience and field vision."
Running backs coach Cornell Jackson put Shavers through several balancing drills and taught him finer points of the game, like how to read defensive ends. It was Jackson who played a big role in getting him to West Lafayette.
Shavers was lightly recruited out of Texarkana, Texas, which he attributes in large part to his high school coach and athletic director getting fired before his senior year.
"It was hard making connections and getting my film out there," he said. "Plus, I went to a small [Texas Class] 2A school, and a lot of people don't make it out of that division."
He eventually wound up at Tyler (Kan.) Junior College and sent out his film to FBS schools. Purdue's Jackson was the first coach to show serious interest. After the Boilers offered a scholarship, Shavers said, other schools like Baylor, Indiana and Texas Tech started pursuing him. But he felt loyal to Jackson.
Head coach Danny Hope calls Shavers "a fast, physical back who finishes runs." Purdue doesn't have a lot of other experienced running backs this spring with Bolden out and the offseason transfer of Reggie Pegram. Akeem Hunt, a sprinter on the school's track team who showed bursts of his potential as a true freshman, and redshirt freshman Doug Gentry are the main competitors for playing time in the backfield right now.
The Boilermakers finished fifth in the Big Ten in rushing last season but liked to spread the ball around. No one averaged more than 12 carries per game, and the return of mobile quarterback Rob Henry gives the backfield another rushing threat this season.
So it's doubtful that Shavers will emerge as a classic, workhorse-type No. 1 back. But if called upon, like he was in December, he'll be ready.
"We all just want a chance," he said. "It's hard for one guy to just make it through a whole game nowadays because there are so many different offenses and we play at such a high tempo and pace. But I know I can do it. I just need the opportunity."
Here are some statements from Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke and head coach Danny Hope:
Burke: "On behalf of the entire Purdue Boilermaker family, our hearts go out to Sean’s family -- Frank and Karen, Samantha, Kyle and Amanda -- and all those who knew and loved him. It is during difficult times like these that families must unite to grow stronger, and we extend our hands out to help however we can.”
Hope: “Purdue football is a family, and I am terribly saddened by the loss of one of our young men. Sally’s and my prayers continue to go out to Sean’s family and all his friends and loved ones. He was a special young man whose positive spirit will be a part of our program forever.”
Purdue officials said assistant coach Donn Landholm spent Monday in Monticello, Ind., with Matti’s family, while assistants Sean Clark and Cornell Jackson arrived Tuesday morning. Marty Dittmar, a volunteer chaplain for the athletic department, also was at the scene.
The Boilermakers said that grief counselors were available on campus for Matti's teammates.
Thoughts and prayers go out to the Matti family and the Purdue program.
"All I need is 16 inches of daylight," Bolden told me Wednesday. "That's it. I'm gone."
Bolden proved it early last season, zooming to the top of the national rushing charts with 357 yards and four touchdowns in his first two games. On his very first carry in the opener against Toledo, his first touch as the Boilermakers' starter, Bolden raced 78 yards to the end zone.
Not bad for a freshman.
OK, Bolden technically was a sophomore in 2009, but the 5-foot-9, 194-pound Georgian wasn't much of a factor in 2008 as he recovered from a serious knee injury he suffered late in his high school career.
"He didn't play much his freshman year, but he didn't get redshirted, so they kind of wasted him," Boilers offensive coordinator Gary Nord said. "He didn't get to spend any extra time in the weight room, and then he didn't get to play and get the experience, either. He was like a freshman last year and will be like a sophomore this year."
After another full offseason under his belt, Bolden will hit the practice field March 24 with higher hopes.
"I wasn't able to do what I want [in 2009]," he said. "This year, I expect a lot more. I know how people are going to move, what to expect, so it's like, 'You know what to expect, you've got to do something.' A lot of times people just do stunts and slants and stuff. It caught me off [guard] last year, I looked for the cutback a lot. But I'm going to stick with my blocks and be more disciplined."
Bolden has been trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to bulk up a bit this offseason, but his breakaway speed isn't going anywhere.
Boilers running backs coach Cornell Jackson often tells his players that they only need 16 inches of room to burst through. Bolden proved the theory last fall, and Nord has bigger plans for the back in 2010.
"He's got a great first step, he can really take off fast," Nord said. "He's got very good vision, he got a lot better in the blocking part of it, in the protection schemes, and he's got extremely good hands. We move him out and play him at wideout, we put him at the top of the I, and we'll keep him as the 1-back.
"He's very valuable to us, and another year under his belt with maturity is going to be amazing for him."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Cornell Jackson started spring practice with just a basic working knowledge of the Purdue running backs he was hired to coach.
He wouldn't have wanted things any other way.
Everything Jackson knew about the Boilers backs came from his job interview with head coach Danny Hope, who briefed him on each of the players. After being hired, Jackson chose not to watch any film on the backs, giving them a blank canvas to display their skills.
"As a position coach, you want to see your guys perform live," Jackson said. "In morning workouts, I watched them run around. And then once we started spring ball, that was my deal, to watch them run, to watch them block, to watch them catch, all those things."
Needless to say, he liked what he saw.
Although Purdue didn't have its most experienced back (Jaycen Taylor) or quite possibly its most promising runner (freshman Al-Terek McBurse) on the field this spring, Jackson and Hope came out of the 15 practices feeling optimistic about the running back position.
Arguably no player in the Big Ten had a more eye-popping spring performance than Boilers sophomore Ralph Bolden, who rushed for 420 yards and four touchdowns on 66 carries in four scrimmages. Junior Dan Dierking added 211 rushing yards and three touchdowns, including 95 yards and two scores in the Black & Gold game.
The emergence of both Bolden and Dierking bodes well for Purdue, which loses almost all of its starting skill players from last season, including quarterback Curtis Painter and running back Kory Sheets. Both backfield positions looked shaky entering spring ball, but running back could end up being a surprising source of depth for the Boilers this fall.
"I was pleased that those kids did exactly what we asked them to do and how we asked them to do it," Jackson said. "Those kids proved to me that they want to contribute to this football team. From the standpoint of depth, I feel good."
Bolden, Dierking and burly senior Frank Halliburton all impressed Jackson during the practice, and the group will get even stronger this fall.
Taylor, who split carries with Sheets in 2006 and 2007, is on schedule to return from a torn ACL sustained in training camp last summer. He was held out of contact this spring but brings plenty of experience and leadership to the field.
McBurse, the team's top incoming recruit, gained clearance from the NCAA in late April after eligibility issues prevented him from participating in spring ball.
"He was here in the spring, he was involved in meetings, he saw guys at practice," Jackson said of McBurse, a heralded back from Winter Springs, Fla. "In his mind, he's thinking, 'Hey, I can do this, too.' When we start camp, the young man is going to want to get in the mix and we're going to get him in there."
Bolden was a virtual unknown before spring practice. He tore his ACL toward the end of his senior year in high school and was still somewhat limited last season at Purdue, where he had 16 carries in eight games as a reserve.
"Ralph's got the quick feet," Jackson said. "He's a small back (5-9, 194), so sometimes he can hide behind those offensive linemen, find that seam and break through. Here's a guy that has got a low center of gravity, got great vision and got tremendous speed."
Halliburton brings power to the backfield at 6-2, 251 pounds, while Dierking is closer to Bolden's size but boasts a thick frame and good blocking skills.
Purdue has been primarily a pass-first team during the spread offense era, but the run game could play a bigger role in new coordinator Gary Nord's scheme.
"The thing I want to accomplish out of all these guys," Jackson said, "I don't care who's in the ballgame, I don't care what situation it might be. I just don't want the offense to change because you've got to put a different guy in there. I want the offense to stay the same. I think we accomplished that this spring."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I'm not quite ready to put a stopper in the Big Ten coaching carousel for 2008-09, though the ride is pretty much over. Barring some unforeseen changes in the coming weeks, Minnesota's hiring of Richard Hightower as wide receivers coach will complete the staff shuffling for this year.
Here's a review of the coaching changes around the league this year. It's interesting to note that none of the league's top four teams in 2008 -- Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa -- lost an assistant. If it ain't broke ...
- Offensive coordinator: Mike Locksley left to become New Mexico's head coach. Illinois hired TCU offensive coordinator Mike Schultz as his replacement.
- Defensive line: Tom Sims was fired and replaced by hired Cincinnati's Keith Gilmore.
- Offensive line: Eric Wolford left for the same post at South Carolina, and Ron Zook hired Houston's Joe Gilbert as his replacement.
Notes: Outside receivers coach Kurt Beathard will now work with the quarterbacks.
- Defensive coordinator: Scott Shafer resigned and was replaced by former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson.
- Offensive coordinator: Mike Dunbar resigned and was replaced by Denver Broncos wide receivers coach Jedd Fisch.
- Defensive coordinator: Ted Roof resigned to take the same post at Auburn and was replaced by former Nebraska and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. Defensive backs coach Ron Lee was promoted to co-defensive coordinator.
- Offensive line: Phil Meyer resigned and was replaced by Alabama assistant Tim Davis.
- Wide receivers: George McDonald left for a quality control position with the Cleveland Browns and was replaced by Hightower.
Notes: Davis will oversee Minnesota's run game. Lee will continue to coach the Gophers' secondary.
- Offensive line: Bret Ingalls left to become running backs coach with the New Orleans Saints. Superbacks coach Adam Cushing was moved to offensive line.
- Superbacks: Cushing became offensive line coach and Lafayette offensive coordinator Bob Heffner was hired as his replacement.
- Head coach: Danny Hope took over for the retiring Joe Tiller.
- Offensive coordinator: Ed Zaunbrecher was fired and replaced by Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Gary Nord.
- Defensive coordinator: Brock Spack left to become Illinois State's head coach and was replaced by Eastern Kentucky defensive coordinator Donn Landholm.
- Running backs: Joel Thomas left for the same job at Washington, and Hope hired former Kansas State assistant Cornell Jackson as his replacement.
- Offensive line: Hope handled the line in 2008 and hired former Eastern Kentucky assistant Shawn Clark as his replacement.
- Special teams: Mark Hagen moved from special teams to linebackers, and graduate assistant J.B. Gibboney was promoted to this position.
Notes: Tight ends coach John McDonnell was not retained for 2009. Terrell Williams will once again coach the entire defensive line this fall after working strictly with the ends in 2008.
Notes: Brad Pendergrass was named director of football operations. Pendergrass most recently served as assistant director for football operations at Mississippi State.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Purdue's hiring of defensive coordinator Donn Landholm on Monday likely marks the end to the major coaching moves in the Big Ten this year.
There have been no head-coaching changes -- Danny Hope was named Purdue's head coach-in-waiting last year -- and unless Iowa's Kirk Ferentz bolts for the Kansas City Chiefs, which isn't likely, all 11 teams will have continuity on top. But there were several key changes among coordinators and key position coaches.
Here's a summary.
Offensive coordinator: Mike Locksley left to become New Mexico's head coach. Illinois hired TCU offensive coordinator Mike Schultz as his replacement.
Defensive line: Ron Zook fired Tom Sims and hired Cincinnati's Keith Gilmore.
Offensive line: Eric Wolford left for the same post at South Carolina, and Zook hired Houston's Joe Gilbert as his replacement.
Notes: Arguably Illinois' biggest coaching move was one that didn't happen. Zook offered Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson the chance to be Illinois' defensive coordinator, but the ace recruiter opted to stay at State College.
Notes: Despite a 3-9 season that saw regression on both sides of the ball, head coach Bill Lynch said he didn't expect to make any staff changes for 2009.
Notes: Ferentz is being mentioned as a candidate for the Chiefs' head-coaching vacancy because of his ties to new general manager Scott Pioli, but it appears likely he will remain at Iowa for an 11th season. He will hold a signing day news conference scheduled for Feb. 4 and has talked with athletic director Gary Barta about a contract extension.
Defensive coordinator: Scott Shafer resigned and later took the same job at Syracuse. Michigan hired former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson as Shafer's replacement.
Notes: Head coach Rich Rodriguez took his time with the search, and Robinson actually reached out to him about the defensive coordinator vacancy.
Notes: Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell was in the mix for several head-coaching spots (Miami University, Boston College) but will stay put for 2009.
Offensive coordinator: Mike Dunbar resigned Jan. 6 to pursue other professional opportunities. Minnesota hired former Denver Broncos wide receivers coach Jedd Fisch as Dunbar's replacement.
Defensive coordinator: Ted Roof resigned Jan. 6 to take the same post at Auburn. Gophers head coach Tim Brewster hired former Nebraska and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove, who will share coordinator duties with defensive backs coach Ron Lee.
Notes: Fisch will call the offensive plays, but he must collaborate with Tim Davis, the team's new offensive line coach and run game coordinator. Davis, who replaces Phil Meyer, was hired in late November to transform Minnesota's run game and return the team to its roots as a dominant rushing attack.
Offensive line: Bret Ingalls left for the New Orleans Saints. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald told me he's not concerned about naming a replacement until after signing day, but indications are Adam Cushing, the H-backs coach and recruiting coordinator, will be promoted to line coach.
Notes: Athletic director Jim Phillips wants to work out a contract extension for Fitzgerald and likely will announce one in the coming weeks or months.
Notes: Some expected offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman to get the axe, and while it still could happen, head coach Jim Tressel is the primary playcaller and responsible for the unit's success. Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell was mentioned as a candidate for the head-coaching vacancy at Bowling Green.
Notes: Penn State retained Larry Johnson despite Illinois offering more money and a coordinator position. Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley also remains despite some rumors that he was a candidate for the top job at Syracuse.
Offensive coordinator: Ed Zaunbrecher was fired and replaced by Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Gary Nord.
Defensive coordinator: Longtime Boilers defensive coordinator Brock Spack left to become Illinois State's head coach. Hope hired his former Eastern Kentucky staffer Landholm as Spack's replacement.
Running backs: Joel Thomas left for the same job at Washington, and Hope hired former Kansas State assistant Cornell Jackson as his replacement.
Offensive line: Hope handled the line in 2008 and hired his former Eastern Kentucky staffer Shawn Clark to replace him.
Special teams: Hope moved Mark Hagen from special teams to linebackers and promoted graduate assistant J.B. Gibboney to this post.
Notes: Tight ends coach John McDonnell was not retained for 2009, and a replacement hasn't been named. Terrell Williams will once again coach the entire defensive line this fall after working strictly with the ends in 2008.
Notes: After firing veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz and seeing offensive line coach Bob Palcic leave for UCLA last year, head coach Bret Bielema is keeping his staff in place despite a very disappointing 2008 season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Cornell Jackson has been hired as Purdue's running backs coach, the team announced Sunday night.
Jackson coached linebackers at Kansas State in 2008, but the majority of his career has been spent with running backs. He tutored backs at Baylor (2007), New Mexico (2005-06), Washington (2004) and Arizona State (1996-99). Former New Mexico stars Rodney Ferguson and DonTrell Moore are among the players Jackson coached.
"Cornell is a great addition to our staff," Purdue head coach Danny Hope said in a statement. "He comes highly recommended and has coached in some big-time conferences. He's an aggressive coach and an excellent recruiter. He preaches ball security, physical running and finishing each play. We really hit the jackpot with him."
Jackson replaces Joel Thomas, who recently left to become running backs coach at Washington. The 48-year-old takes over a group that loses top rusher Kory Sheets but returns Jaycen Taylor, a key contributor in 2006 and 2007 who tore his ACL in preseason camp in August.
Hope is still looking for a defensive coordinator to round out his coaching staff after Brock Spack left to become Illinois State's head coach.