NCF Nation: John Shoop
And, even as their careers blossomed, they never thought they’d wind up where they are today, competing as coaches in the same conference: Bob as Penn State’s defensive coordinator, John as Purdue’s offensive coordinator.
“It’s just a little bit weird,” John said with a laugh. “We’re competing directly now with one another so, yeah, there’s a certain level of discomfort.”
Added Bob: “Right after, you realize ‘Holy crap -- we’re in the same conference.’ … It’s a little different, but blood is thicker than water.”
The two brothers took two indirect paths to get to this juncture. Bob graduated with an economics degree from Yale, bought a few suits and took on an internship with Procter & Gamble. John earned a degree in religion from the University of the South and contemplated trading in his cleats for seminary vestments.
But it was difficult to overcome that childhood influence, that continuing love of football. They’d think back to their father standing off to the side during those pickup games and barking orders; he acted like a coach so often that his neighborhood nickname to this day remains “Skipper.” And John would reflect on how often he turned to a coach, as opposed to the clergy, when he faced a dilemma in life.
At different times, they decided to enter the coaching profession. But the eldest, Bob, paved the way.
“There was never anyone less comfortable than Bobby working for Procter & Gamble,” said a laughing Bill Shoop, the middle brother of Bob and John. “I don’t know if he even cared about the job. He was working for Procter & Gamble -- which is a great company -- but there could’ve been nobody who cared less about it than Bobby.
“And once Bobby went back to coaching after school and Johnny saw that, he realized that’s what he wanted to do.”
Success didn’t come at first, of course. But the Shoop brothers couldn’t be pried from the sport. They boasted two different personalities, but they were both driven. John was the one who spoke slowly and deliberately, using phrases like “shoot” and “son of a gun.” He could spend a day recounting stories and making his friends laugh; he could relate to players. Bob was the one who spoke quickly and spent his time in the film room. He’d tell stories, too, but 25 minutes seemed to be his limit before he’d start thinking about the gridiron again.
John carved his coaching path in the NFL -- at stints with the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears -- while Bob traveled through the FCS ranks of Columbia and William & Mary. Eventually, John found a job as offensive coordinator at North Carolina before moving on to Purdue in 2013. Bob found a gig at Vanderbilt before moving on with James Franklin earlier this year. It was a long way from the fall days of, "Kill the Man with the Ball" when the youngest, John, was usually volunteered to carry the pigskin while the neighborhood kids tackled him.
So when Bob accepted the job as the Nittany Lions’ coordinator, one of the first people he called -- of course --was John. And Bob recalled with a laugh how that conversation ended:
It's just a little bit weird. We're competing directly now with one another so, yeah, there's a certain level of discomfort.- John Shoop, on coaching in the same conference as his brother Bob
When you think about the tradition and history of being defensive coordinator, the expectations there are that you’re going to put out a championship product on the field. I hope you know what you signed up for.
No pressure, right? "How about that, huh?" Bob said with a laugh.
Bob is now overseeing Linebacker U, a Penn State tradition, while John is directing Purdue's Cradle of Quarterbacks, which produced college legends like Drew Brees and Bob Griese. The two brothers grew up on Pennsylvania sports -- with a loving father, who didn't mind throwing in a hard foul every now and then in pickup basketball -- and they revered Big Ten football and those traditions. And now they’ve nearly come full-circle.
They’ll text every week and chat whenever they can find time between coaches’ meetings and game-planning. They’ll use one another as resources -- but mostly focus on their families during any talks. How’s band going for Bill’s kid? How are the wives? How’s senior year going for Bob’s son?
Penn State and Purdue won’t face each other this season. But they are slated to face one another on Oct. 29, 2016. That's not a date either has circled; the Shoops haven’t spoken about that since the first phone call nearly eight months ago -- and they don’t plan to speak about it again. That’s when everything comes full-circle, and that’s when their relationship becomes a bit trickier to navigate for a few weeks or months.
“Obviously, the Harbaugh brothers coached against one another in the Super Bowl,” Bob said. “But offensive coordinator vs. defensive coordinator? That’s really a head-to-head matchup. I don’t know if that’s ever happened before. So in 2016, it’s on. But, before then, I’m going to help John anyway I can -- as long as it doesn’t hurt what we’re trying to accomplish at Penn State.”
Until that day, Bill and his parents plan to flip between channels every Saturday. And the Shoop brothers plan to make their hometown proud. They’ve taken different paths, but they’ve both reached similar destinations. And now they’re there to prop each other up.
“I think my brothers just kind of loved sports so much that I loved them,” John said. “They loved me into loving sports. I believe that. And I’ll help [Bob] because I love him.”
Said Bob: “To me, this is like coming home. … We’ll help each other out any way we can, as long it doesn’t affect Purdue or Penn State. And I know he feels the same way.”
It wasn't a play sheet for that afternoon's practice. Etling had created most of the page himself. Boilers offensive coordinator John Shoop provides his quarterbacks with general concepts, and then lets their minds run wild. He encourages Etling, Austin Appleby, 2014 signee David Blough and the other signal-callers to submit plays for review. Some will be used in practice. Some will even be used in games this season.
Shoop is the "puppet master," as Etling puts it, and has final say on all play calls, but Purdue's quarterbacks are very involved in the planning process for practices this spring -- and will be for games this fall.
"I value that," Shoop said. "It's our job as a staff to make our team feel empowered, like they're in control. These guys are not robots. Our staff takes a great deal of pride that the men who come and play for us are going to learn the game of football."
After a 1-11 season, where one of Purdue's biggest problems -- not lining up correctly -- occurred before the snap, you would expect the coaches to take even greater control of the learning process. The classic scenes of coaches and players -- red-faced coaches screaming and pounding on tables, players scared out of their cleats -- would seem likely inside the Mollenkopf Center this spring.
But there's a problem with that teaching model.
"They’ll just sit there and nod their heads, say they got it," defensive backs coach Taver Johnson said, "and then we’ll go down to the field and they’ll have absolutely no clue."
Purdue has chosen a different direction this spring. There's plenty of teaching being done, but the Boilers’ coaches are doing all they can to involve players in the process.
"Every time you take over a new program, your staff has to teach everything," coach Darrell Hazell said. "How do you line up, how do you break a huddle, where you are on the field. Now it's becoming fun, because you don’t have to worry about all those little things.
"You can concentrate on ball and getting guys better."
It beats the alternative.
For Shoop, it means having quarterbacks present their own plays at each meeting, and seriously considering them for use. For Johnson, it's having a player stand at the front of the room and teach his teammates press technique. For wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman, it's having each wideout prepare a report on a concept or set of concepts, while encouraging them to get creative.
Sophomore receiver Cameron Posey took it to heart.
“"Cameron used little Indians and cowboys on a cardboard," Sherman said. "He used different color lines on his routes. Very creative. I was very proud of them. They were very, very invested in what we're trying to do."
It's our job as a staff to make our team feel empowered, like they're in control. These guys are not robots. Our staff takes a great deal of pride that the men who come and play for us are going to learn the game of football.” -- Purdue offensive coordinator John Shoop
Etling admits the plays he submitted last year were "high school stuff," possibly because he had just come from high school. But he eventually learned all that goes into a play and what Shoop likes. One of his submissions made it into a game against Illinois and went for a completion.
Although the players' submissions still need refining, Shoop never writes them off immediately. He fully expects to use an Etling play or an Appleby play in games this fall.
"These coaches are very unique, especially with Coach Shoop in the way he challenges us mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually," Appleby said. "Coach Shoop says if you never walk into this room comfortable, we're not doing our jobs and we're not getting better.
"The only time I would say I wouldn't be able to develop as a complete quarterback is if there was a ceiling put over my head. There is no ceiling."
Appleby hopes to pursue coaching after his playing career and would like to be an offensive coordinator in college.
"I can't get enough of it," he said. "It's my favorite class. I know we're student-athletes, but my football class is what I look forward to all day. I get a chance to learn from [Shoop], not only as a player, but if I pursue a coaching career, it's going to pay dividends."
The coaches have successfully created more player investment in the learning process. The next step: translating it to the field when it matters.
"Any time you can get the players thinking like the coaches," Hazell said, "you have a chance to move forward."
Let's get to it …
1. Quarterback mysteries solved: We might not get all the answers in Week 1 about the Big Ten's many quarterback competitions, but a few clues should emerge. Three Big Ten teams -- Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana -- have yet to announce starting quarterbacks heading into the openers. Expect sophomore Joel Stave to lead the Badgers and freshman Christian Hackenberg to take the first snap for Penn State. Indiana's quarterback race has been extremely even, and coach Kevin Wilson isn't afraid to let the starter decision go down to the wire.
2. Coaching debuts: Purdue's Darrell Hazell and Wisconsin's Gary Andersen both have enjoyed honeymoon periods at their respective schools, but they both know the mood can change once the games begin. Hazell faces an uphill climb as Purdue plays the Big Ten's toughest schedule, beginning Saturday on the road against a Cincinnati team that won 10 games last season. Andersen embarks on the unique challenge of blending his philosophy with a veteran team that has won the past three Big Ten championships. Wisconsin will have no trouble with Massachusetts, but keep an eye on how the Badgers' new 3-4 defense performs.
4. Speed trap in Berkeley: Still glowing from a 10-win season in 2012, Northwestern faces several unique challenges in its opener Saturday night at Cal. The Wildcats must contain the "Bear Raid" offense orchestrated by new Cal coach Sonny Dykes. The Bears are a mystery team with a ton of youth led by a freshman quarterback (Jared Goff). Northwestern also must contend with a late kickoff and moved its practices this week from the afternoon to the evening. The Wildcats are even taking naps to prepare.
5. Dontre's inferno: Aside from Christian Hackenberg, no Big Ten incoming freshman has generated more buzz in camp than Ohio State's multipurpose speedster Dontre Wilson. The onetime Oregon commit could be a transformative player for Urban Meyer's offense, filling the so-called Percy position at wide receiver/running back. Wilson should get some opportunities for explosive plays as Ohio State opens the season Saturday against Buffalo.
6. Juco hello: The Big Ten doesn't bring in as many junior college transfers as other leagues, but several juco arrivals could be impact players this season. Nebraska fans are anxious to see if Randy Gregory can be the pass -rushing force they've been waiting for. Wisconsin's Tanner McEvoy fell out of the mix at quarterback but will see time at other positions like wide receiver. Illinois wide receiver Martize Barr provides a much-needed weapon in the pass game for Nathan Scheelhaase. Minnesota linebackers Damien Wilson and De'Vondre Campbell could solidify the defensive midsection. It'll also be interesting whether quarterback Tyler Ferguson logs some field time for Penn State.
7. Oh, Henry: Purdue senior Rob Henry will make his first start at quarterback since the 2010 season (yes, you read that right) on Saturday against Cincinnati. An ACL injury sustained in late August prevented Henry from starting in 2011, and the versatile Boiler wore several hats for the offense in 2012. After beating out Danny Etling and Austin Appleby in camp, Henry guides coordinator John Shoop's pro-style offense into Nippert Stadium, where Purdue aims for a win that would provide "instant gratification," according to Hazell.
8. To the Max: Senior Andrew Maxwell emerged from Michigan State's quarterback morass to claim the starting job, at least for now. But after struggling for much of his first season as the starter, Maxwell needs a strong start Friday night against Western Michigan. Head coach Mark Dantonio is committed to playing multiple quarterbacks early in the season, so Connor Cook should see time against the Broncos. Maxwell must prove he's the top option by showing better command and rhythm with his oft-criticized receiving corps.
9. Let's be Frank: Few Michigan players not named Devin Gardner have generated more positive ink in the offseason than defensive end Frank Clark. The 6-foot-2, 273-pound junior had a strong finish to the 2012 season and could be the pass-rusher Michigan needs to turn a corner defensively this fall. Then again, we've seen certain Michigan defenders hyped up (cough, Will Campbell, cough) and never do much. It'll be interesting to see if Clark sets the tone for a big year Saturday against Central Michigan.
10. APB for playmakers: Other than Penn State and Iowa, the Big Ten actually returns a decent amount of experience at quarterback for the 2013 season. But the league lacks offensive playmakers, especially at wide receiver. Teams like Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan State and Illinois are hoping to surround their quarterbacks with more options. It will be interesting to see who establishes himself in Week 1 as a go-to option.
First-year coaches have to work with a group of players that with few exceptions they never recruited. They often must implement new styles of play and terminology, adjust their own philosophies to the talent on hand and win over the fan base. Oh, and they'd better win right away, too, or the criticism will start early.
The Big Ten has two new head coaches this season in Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Purdue's Darrell Hazell. What are some of the specific challenges facing each man? Let's examine:
It's rare a new coach comes into a program that has been winning at a high level. After all, there's usually a reason why the team made a coaching change in the first place, and successful programs often look to promote one of "their guys" in a transition. So Andersen is an unusual case in that he's taking over a Badgers team that has won three straight Big Ten titles and gone to three straight Rose Bowls. Yet athletic director Barry Alvarez went with someone who had no Wisconsin ties (or, really, much of any roots east of the Rockies) when he hired Andersen from Utah State to replace Bret Bielema.
You always have to worry about players who have won a lot under the old ways accepting a change and a new voice, but Andersen seemed to connect with the Wisconsin players quickly by earning their respect and trust. Badgers fans, many of whom disliked Bielema more than most outsiders could imagine, have also already embraced Andersen. Of course, if Wisconsin doesn't win early under Andersen, there will be a lot more people who start talking about the good old days. He will have to live up to Bielema's impressive record and the very large shadow of Alvarez, a Hall of Famer who's still revered by Badgers everywhere.
On a more micro level, Andersen and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda are switching to a 3-4 defense that will be unique to the Big Ten. That will require an adjustment. Wisconsin also has a close quarterback battle raging between Joel Stave and Curt Phillips that will be intensified when Tanner McEvoy -- an Andersen recruit -- arrives this summer. The offense needs to get better at the receiver position outside of Jared Abbrederis, and Andersen must maintain the tradition of outstanding offensive line play, even if his staff teaches blocking techniques differently than their predecessors.
Still, as far as first-year jobs go, this is a plum assignment, given Wisconsin's recent success and the talent on hand. Andersen's No. 1 challenge in 2013 may well be something outside of his immediate control: Ohio State.
There's one major difference between Hazell and Andersen: Hazell doesn't have to worry about living up to his predecessor's record. Danny Hope went just 22-27 in West Lafayette, and the vast majority of Boilermakers fans had soured on Hope by the time he was fired following last season's regular-season finale. Hazell was greeted with open arms by Purdue supporters if for no other reason than that he wasn't Danny Hope; he's also an impressive public speaker who can get a crowd fired up when he talks, unlike the often rambling Hope.
Hazell's challenges, then, are of a more practical sort. To put it simply, he needs to get the Boilers to perform better on the field. Though Purdue reached back-to-back bowl games the past two seasons, the team often wilted in spotlight games and showed a lack of mental grit and discipline at key moments. The offense lacked an identity at times, and the defense suffered from a linebacker unit that wasn't good enough for upper-echelon Big Ten standards.
Toughness is a word Hazell and new offensive coordinator John Shoop have used a lot in the offseason. Hazell's surprising Kent State team last season ran the ball with authority, and that's something he wants Purdue to adopt as well. The trouble is that the two quarterbacks who started last season -- Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush -- are both gone, and the lead tailback, Akeem Hunt, carried the ball just 42 times last year. The Boilers could end up going with a true freshman -- Danny Etling -- under center this season.
The 2013 schedule -- which includes nonconference games against Cincinnati and versus Notre Dame and Northern Illinois, plus crossover games against Nebraska and Michigan State -- is very demanding and will make it difficult for Purdue to get off to a strong start. And one of Hazell's big challenges is to build enthusiasm and excitement again among Boilermakers fans who stopped showing up at Ross-Ade Stadium last year. If the team loses five or six of its first seven games -- a distinct possibility -- then the rebuilding effort only becomes more difficult. It could also affect recruiting, which has never been particularly easy at Purdue.
Then again, no one said being a first-year head coach would be easy.
Who are the first-year Big Ten players to watch in 2013? Here are five of them.
Michigan RB Derrick Green, freshman: Until Jabrill Peppers' commitment last month, no Michigan recruit in the Brady Hoke era has generated more excitement than Green, a late pickup in the 2013 class. The Wolverines are looking for a feature running back in their pro-set offense and struggled to find one last season, when quarterback Denard Robinson had more than twice as many rush yards (1,266) as any other player. Green plays a position where true freshmen can make an immediate impact, and he has a sturdy frame at 6-foot, 215 pounds. Michigan has been waiting for a power back like Green, and if he can grasp the protection schemes and outperform Fitzgerald Toussaint in camp, he'll likely play a lot this season.
Nebraska DE Randy Gregory, junior: It's no secret Nebraska needs help on defense, especially up front, where the Huskers lose three starters from 2012 and need a difference-maker to emerge. Gregory comes in from the junior-college ranks with an excellent chance to start or at least log significant playing time. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound junior from Arizona Western Community College missed last season with a broken leg but recorded 21 tackles for loss, including nine sacks, in 2011 as he helped Arizona Western to the NJCAA title game. The one-time Purdue recruit could fill the pass-rushing void left by Eric Martin.
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg, freshman: Although Hackenberg didn't enroll early like Purdue's Etling, he also enters preseason camp with an excellent chance to become a Big Ten starting quarterback as a true freshman. After Steven Bench's transfer, Penn State's quarterback race is down to Hackenberg and junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson, who went through the spring and slightly outperformed Bench. RecruitingNation rated Hackenberg as the No. 1 quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, and he has all the mental and physical skills to play early in his career. He'll be challenged to grasp O'Brien's complex, NFL-style offense in several weeks this summer, but unless Ferguson creates significant separation, expect to see plenty of Hackenberg during the season.
Minnesota LB Damien Wilson, junior: The Gophers need immediate help at linebacker after losing Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper, and they expect to get it from Wilson, a junior-college transfer from Mississippi. Head coach Jerry Kill was excited about Wilson's addition on signing day, and Wilson showed some promising signs during his first spring session with the Gophers. The 6-foot-2, 254-pound Wilson ranked fourth nationally in the juco ranks with 122 tackles last season and recorded six tackles for loss, two sacks and two pass breakups. Barring a preseason surprise, he'll play a significant role for Minnesota's defense this fall.
But when Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith sat down to discuss staff pay, Smith soon realized he needed to do more.
"I think Michigan had stepped up with their coordinators," Smith recalled last week during Big Ten spring meetings in Chicago. "So we were already going to that before Urban Meyer came, but we bumped it up a little more. Any time there's change, you have that opportunity."
The Big Ten is part of the change, too, as the league is allocating more money toward football assistants than ever before. The Detroit Free Press has an excellent look at Big Ten assistants' salaries, complete with a database that includes 10 of the 12 current members (Northwestern doesn't submit salaries as a private institution, and Penn State doesn't have to because of state laws).
The Free Press found that eight of the 10 schools are paying more for assistants in 2013 than they did in 2012 (only Indiana and Illinois are not). There are some significant total increases, such as Wisconsin (up $558,000), Nebraska (up $518,500), Purdue ($400,000) and Minnesota ($355,000). Staff pay had been an issue at Wisconsin, which lost six assistant coaches following the 2012 Rose Bowl, and at Purdue, which paid less for its staff during the Danny Hope era than any Big Ten school.
The total trend among the 10 schools is an increase of $1,720,852.24 for 2013.
Ohio State and Michigan remain No. 1 and No. 2 in Big Ten staff salary, as the Buckeyes allocate $3.416 million and the Wolverines allocate $2.805 million. Nebraska and Wisconsin make the biggest moves in the league for 2013, as the Huskers rise from sixth to third and the Badgers rise from seventh to fourth.
Illinois, which replaced five assistants from the 2012 team, including co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales, dropped from third in staff pay ($2.314 million) to eighth ($2.065 million).
The database shows that nearly every Big Ten assistant with "coordinator" in his title -- whether he's the sole coordinator or a co-coordinator -- will earn north of $300,000 for 2013. Only 18 assistants listed will make less than $200,000 in 2013 -- 15 work for Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana.
- Although Wisconsin paid former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst good coin, the school has increased its commitment for Gary Andersen's staff, not only with the coordinators but with some coveted position coaches like running backs coach Thomas Hammock ($300,000).
- All of Nebraska's assistants are earning $200,000 or more for 2013, but there's a huge drop-off between Beck and the next highest-paid assistant (defensive coordinator John Papuchis at $310,000).
- Michigan State has a similar drop off between Narduzzi and co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($270,000) and Jim Bollman ($260,000). Warner will be the primary offensive play-caller and has been on Mark Dantonio's staff since 2006, while Bollman is a newcomer.
- Although Michigan is paying top dollar for its coordinators, the school gets its assistants for a relative bargain. Receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Jeff Hecklinski will earn $225,000 in 2013, while the others all will earn $205,000. Ohio State, meanwhile, pays all but one of its assistants $286,000 or more.
- The Big Ten's three lowest-paid assistants all are in their first years: Illinois wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy ($125,000) and Purdue linebackers coach Marcus Freeman and running backs coach Jafar Williams (both at $120,000).
- Although schools like Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa ($325,000) pay their coordinators the exact same amount, others have slight differences in salary. Purdue's Shoop makes $5,000 more than defensive coordinator Greg Hudson. Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($340,000) makes $5,000 more than offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. Wonder if that leads to any underlying jealousy?
- Most Big Ten schools have assistant salaries in round numbers, but there are some interesting totals from Indiana, which pays co-offensive coordinators Seth Littrell and Kevin Johns $255,500.04 and new recruiting coordinator/assistant defensive line coach James Patton $173,740.08. Never know when that change can come in handy.
The Big Ten still lacks some of the OMG totals seen in the SEC -- LSU is paying new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron $3.4 million in the next three years -- but the overall trend puts the league more on par with what we're seeing nationally.
It's your move, Dri Archer. Akeem Hunt is waiting.
Hunt, Purdue's senior running back and return man extraordinaire, watched and admired Archer from a distance last season as the Kent State dynamo earned consensus All-America honors as an all-purpose player in 2012. The 5-foot-8 Archer led the nation in kick return average (36.9 ypr), led Kent State in both rushing and receiving yards, set the single-season team touchdowns record (23) and finshed fifth nationally in all-purpose yards (184.1 ypg).
"He's very explosive," Hunt told ESPN.com. "When he gets the ball, he can make one cut and just be out."
The same can be said of Hunt, who averaged eight yards per rush, 15.7 yards per reception and 22.2 yards per kick return, including a 100-yard scoring return against Ohio State, for the Boilers in 2012. Hunt recorded four scoring plays of 50 yards or longer last fall.
When Darrell Hazell, who coached Archer at Kent State last season, took the same post at Purdue, the drumbeat soon began for a showdown between two of the Midwest's fastest college football players.
"[Purdue's coaches] always say they would like to see us race," Hunt said.
As for Hunt?
"I would do it," he said, smiling. "I'd race him."
Perhaps Hunt-Archer I becomes a reality sometime this summer, but until then, Hunt will continue working toward the role Archer had for Kent State in 2012 -- a speed threat, but so much more. Hunt set out this spring to show Hazell and the new staff that he could be an every-down back after playing behind Akeem Shavers last season, and Shavers and Ralph Bolden in 2011.
He undoubtedly strengthened his case during the 15 spring practices, taking the lion's share of the reps with the first-team offense. Purdue had only three running backs in the fold this spring, but Hunt separated himself and capped the session with 134 rush yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in the spring game.
"I have a lot of confidence in him," Hazell said after the scrimmage. "I think he’s a marquee guy in this league because he does have some balance. He has some inline quickness and he has some top-end speed to take it the distance. And he is showing some toughness. ... The key for him is to get stronger in the offseason and continue to learn the game.
"But where he is right now, I think he's going to be pretty special if he keeps working at it."
Hunt is working hard to mold himself into a complete Big Ten running back. He added five pounds during the winter and checks in at 190, not massive by any chance but a bit sturdier than he was as a junior.
"I feel like I can run through tackles now," he said. "[The coaches] get onto me about that every day, that if I'm going to be that No. 1 guy, I can't get broken down by just one person. I have to be broken down by a group of people. ... I feel like I can run between the tackles now instead of just doing sweeps. I feel like I can run power and zone much better."
There’s no doubt Hunt will continue to play a big role for Purdue on special teams, an area Hazell stressed throughout his first spring in West Lafayette. But Hunt has bigger goals for his senior season. Running back David Yancey enrolled early at Purdue and went through spring ball, and three more backs -- Keith Byars II, Keyante Green and Dalyn Dawkins -- arrive this summer. It’s clear, though, that Hunt is the man to beat.
Hunt tried to go full speed on every drill this spring, particularly in pass-blocking, a potential area of concern because of his size. After full days of football, he spent 20 minutes every night studying and reviewing the playbook.
“In his ideal world,” Hazell said, “he’d like to carry it 25 times a game.”
New offensive coordinator John Shoop will have the backs line up in the slot and even out wide in addition to the backfield. The primary goal, Hunt says, is to “get us in open space to make plays."
"Akeem is a super fast guy," Shoop told ESPN.com. "He shows electricity."
Few Big Ten players are as dangerous in space as Hunt, who has been clocked at 4.31 seconds in the 40-yard dash and aims to eclipse that time this summer. Hunt comes from a family of runners: his parents, siblings and grandmother all competed in track at the middle school and high school levels. His mother, Sophia Lewis, ran track at Southwestern Christian College in Texas.
Akeem competed in the 100- and 200-meter dash for Newton High School in Covington, Ga., and also did the long jump and triple jump. He grew up playing baseball and only started football after moving to Covington.
Hunt knew he'd have enough speed to succeed at the college level, but developing game speed proved to be a challenge.
"Game speed is very different from just being fast," he said. "You have to know the plays. Instead of thinking, you just have to react and play."
Hunt is soft-spoken and polite -- he begins many answers with "Yes, sir" or "No, sir" -- but he's honest and confident about his speed.
"Can anyone catch me in the open field? No, I don’t think so," he said with a smile.
Hunt, by his own admission, is Purdue's fastest player. Wide receivers Raheem Mostert and B.J. Knauf come close, and cornerbacks Ricardo Allen and Frankie Williams like challenging him.
"He's so competitive, it makes no sense," Hunt said of Allen. "Frankie Williams is competitive, too. Me and Frankie, we raced last year, and it wasn't fair to him."
Hunt needs a challenge. Dri Archer, we're waiting.
"Basically, it all starts with your quarterback, and then you do what your quarterback is best at," Shoop told ESPN.com. "We're trying to figure out who that is going to be."
Indeed, Purdue has one of the most interesting quarterback battles in the Big Ten this spring, as Shoop and first-year head coach Darrell Hazell have to choose from four candidates. Only one, Rob Henry, has any game experience, and he spent most of last year playing positions other than quarterback. The other three -- Austin Appleby, Bilal Marshall and Danny Etling -- are all freshmen; Appleby and Marshall redshirted a year ago, while Ettling enrolled in January.
"It's a very even, wide-open race, and the best guy is going to emerge," Appleby said. "We're all competing our tails off right now."
The situation presents a challenge, but Shoop -- who was out of football last year after previously leading the offense at North Carolina from 2007-2011 -- is excited about the possibilities. Each quarterback brings a little something different to the table.
Henry is athletic enough that he's played receiver and tailback at times, while Marshall is also a speedster, if a little thin. Shoop says Etling is unusually poised for a true freshman, while the 6-foot-5 Appleby has the look of a prototypical pocket passer.
"I think I have the ability to make every throw on the field," Appleby said. "And I would say my best attribute would be my brain. My preparation, being cerebral, understanding what's going on and getting my guys lined up. I'm not the fastest guy, but I make up for it with my decision-making and efficiency."
Those are traits that Shoop is looking for in all four of his quarterbacks. He has continually stressed accuracy since coming to West Lafayette.
"Our quarterback has got to be smart and unbelievably accurate," Shoop said. "If he lives the completion-driven life, then I think we've got a shot. He has to have a knack for throwing completions."
That attitude has filtered down into the contenders.
"We have the expectation in our quarterback group that the ball should never hit the ground," Appleby said.
Both Shoop's offense at North Carolina and Hazell's attack at Kent State last season were known for strong rushing games. Shoop said Purdue fans can expect a physical team that will be able to run the ball and set up the play-action passes. He likes what he's seen from Akeem Hunt, who has sprinter's speed and is a guy who "if you give it to him in space, he can turn something little into something big." He thinks redshirt freshman Robert Gregory can complement Hunt as a power back. There is also plenty of competition at receiver.
But the pieces won't really click together until Purdue settles on its starting quarterback. Shoop said he'd like to have a starter in mind by the end of spring but won't lock himself into any timetable.
"I believe this with all my heart: players make decisions on who's going to play," he said.
That decision should define what the Boilers' offense looks like in 2013.
The new Boiler boss checked in with ESPN.com earlier this week.
What have been some of the big themes of your offseason, and what would you like to see when the guys get out there in practice?
How has the toughness element been so far? It seems like it was a big part of the winter program.
DH: I thought the first couple days, their eyes were wide open. But I think they're starting to settle in a little bit and understand what we're demanding out of them and why it is so tough on them right now. Because they're going to be in a lot of close football games, and you can't allow that to ever leave you.
I know you guys are wearing the "5%" T-shirts in workouts. What's the story behind those?
DH: That was the goal and the emphasis for the 6 a.m. workouts. Five percent better in the last rep, five percent better than the last day, five percent tougher. My coaches are willing to demand five more percent than what they were giving the previous rep. It's all about improvement, and that's probably the biggest point to try and get across. If we're getting five percent better on each rep, on each day, we're going to continually get better.
What are the big keys for the players to understand what you want to do schematically this spring?
DH: There's definitely a learning curve. You're talking about different languages, and you're talking about different schemes. It's going to take them a couple, three weeks to really understand exactly. A lot of times, they'll know where to line up, but what is your actual assignment when you line up there? Those things are sometimes taken for granted, but those things are very important.
Offensively, what are some of the things you and Coach [John] Shoop want to stress this spring, especially with the quarterback?
DH: We're trying to figure out who our guy is going to be. A couple criteria, one obviously is you've got to take care of the football. Two, are you confident enough to stand in there and make those hard throws in those tough situations, and three, can you get us into the right play? Don't have us run a bad football play. Can you get us into the right situations that helps the team get a couple yards?
According to reports, Purdue has hired John Shoop as its new offensive coordinator.
FootballScoop.com first reported Shoop's hiring, and the Big Ten Network also is reporting it. Purdue hasn't officially confirmed the addition of Shoop to Darrell Hazell's staff.
OK, John Shoop. That John Shoop? Yes, that John Shoop. (Chill goes down spine). Breathe, Adam, breathe ...
I'm going to give Shoop a chance to show he won't do to Purdue's offense what he did to the Bears' offense from 1999-2003. Every new Big Ten assistant deserves somewhat of a clean slate from the Big Ten blog.
Sorry, just had a flashback of a bubble screen for minus-3 yards. Focus, Adam.
Shoop coordinated some decent offenses at North Carolina toward the end of his tenure as Tar Heels' offensive coordinator (2007-2010). Players like quarterback T.J. Yates and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks developed nicely under his watch in Chapel Hill. He remains in demand, interviewing for NFL coaching positions in recent weeks. And Shoop certainly boasts enough experience for this job.
He takes over a Purdue offense that loses its top two quarterbacks from 2012 (Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush), its top running back in Akeem Shavers, a valuable receiver in Antavian Edison and several starting linemen. Quarterback will be Shoop's primary focus as he figures out who will lead the Boilers in 2013.
Will there be some Bears jokes made? Yes. Will there be some jokes about Shoop and Jim Bollman being on the same offensive staff? Plenty. Hazell has made some, well, interesting hires so far at Purdue. But maybe it works out in the end and Boiler fans are crankin' up Salt-N-Pepa by the end of the season.
Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington: His 176 rushing yards in the 31-17 upset of Clemson was a school record for a quarterback. He had a 46-yard run in the second quarter and then topped that with a 56-yard run in the third quarter. He was the game’s leading rusher, averaged 6.5 yards per carry and scored one touchdown.
BC running back Rolandan Finch: He ran for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ 28-17 road victory over Maryland. It was the first time the sophomore had cracked the 100-yard mark, and he had totaled 266 yards in the six previous games. Finch had 152 rushing yards at halftime and finished with a career-high 39 carries. He also had a team-best two catches for seven yards.
FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops: This was a tough call, because EJ Manuel played such an outstanding game, but NC State went nowhere against the Noles, including the end zone, in a 34-0 loss. Florida State’s defensive line pressured quarterback Mike Glennon all game and won the battle up front, and the Noles held NC State to 36 rushing yards, 7 of 16 third-down conversions and forced three turnovers.
UNC offensive coordinator John Shoop. The Tar Heels had a season-high 562 yards of total offense in the 49-24 win over Wake Forest, the most points the program has scored in seven years, according to the Associated Press. It was also the most points UNC has scored in an ACC game in a decade. Wake Forest had five turnovers, and UNC’s offense converted four of those into touchdowns. Quarterback Bryn Renner threw for a career-high 338 yards and three touchdowns, Giovani Bernard scored three touchdowns and had his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season and receiver Dwight Jones had six catches for 138 yards.
Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco. He threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the 28-21 win over Miami and helped Virginia snap a seven-game losing streak in ACC road games. He has now passed for over 200 yards three times this season, and his 78-yard touchdown pass to Perry Jones in the fourth quarter was the longest completion and touchdown pass of his career.
Everett Withers, defensive coordinator: He has 24 seasons of coaching experience at both the collegiate and NFL levels. North Carolina's defense has been in the spotlight under Withers, and what he cobbled together in spite of the NCAA investigations was impressive.
John Shoop, offensive coordinator:He has two decades of coaching experience in both the NCAA and NFL, and has been a coordinator for both. Carolina's offense improved under Shoop, but he's a quirky character who has been given his fair share of heat at times from UNC fans.
Sam Pittman, offensive line coach:The title of associate head coach was added earlier this month, but Pittman has spent the past four seasons coaching the Tar Heels' offensive line. School spokesman Kevin Best said there's not necessarily a correlation between Pittman's recent promotion and the timing of the coaching change.
Bud Foster, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator:Give the man a chance, willya?
Randy Shannon, former Miami coach:He knows the ACC, he's a good recruiter, and the timing would work well if an interim were hired this year because Shannon isn't coaching this season. Shannon was reportedly interested in the Maryland job and wants to return to coaching.
Name your Bowden: Terry or Tommy, both have plenty of coaching experience to offer.
Renner was one of four quarterbacks to play, along with Braden Hanson, A.J. Blue and freshman Marquise Williams. While Renner's ability to flourish in games is one of the Tar Heel's biggest questions heading into the fall, UNC's receivers are proven.
Dwight Jones had five catches for 56 yards and and Erik Highsmith had four for 67 yards, with most of that yardage coming on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Renner.
"I was a lot more nervous today because I was running with the ones and it was the first time Coach (John) Shoop was in the (press) box," Renner said, according to the team's practice report. "I thought I did alright, but I know I've got a lot more to learn. I worked the ball to Dwight a lot today and he made me look good. He has the potential to be one of the best receivers in the country."
Ryan Houston started at tailback and had just two carries for 22 yards. Hunter Furr and junior walk-on Matt Kolojejchick each had seven carries.
Defensively, Quinton Coples made a team-high six tackles and was credited with one sack. Safety Josh Hunter had four tackles and one interception.
There's Good T.J., and there's Turnover T.J.
Last week, UNC quarterback T.J. Yates turned it over four times in the loss to Virginia Tech. Today, he started out by completing all eight of his passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, and his seven-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Elzy gave the Tar Heels a 7-0 lead over rival NC State.
This is exactly how the Heels needed to start -- strong. The linebackers have been disrupting the passing game, Yates and Elzy have been moving the chains, and offensive coordinator John Shoop is in a groove.
NC State’s run defense. It will be one of the biggest keys to the game, as FSU enters Raleigh with the No. 19 rushing offense in the nation at 211.71 yards per game. NC State is holding opponents to 148.13.
The replacements in BC. BC defensive end Alex Albright’s season ended last week with a broken fibula. It’s Max Holloway’s job now, and safety Wes Davis is definitely out after sustaining a neck injury against Maryland. Okechukwu Okoroha is expected to start in his place. Cornerback DeLeon Gause did not practice on Wednesday but is still listed as day-to-day.
Bowl eligibility. Maryland, NC State and Miami are all chasing their sixth win of the season this week. So far, only Virginia Tech and Florida State are bowl-eligible in the ACC. It’s of particular importance to the Terps and Wolfpack, who were both home for the holidays last year.
Clemson’s turnover-free streak. The Tigers have gone three straight games without turning the ball over -- a first in school history. The Clemson offense has run 196 consecutive plays without a turnover, a streak that dates to the last play of the Miami (FL) game on October 2. Overall, Clemson has four games this year when it has not committed a turnover. BC’s defense has had 18 takeaways this year.
Nation’s top tacklers in Chestnut Hill. Saturday’s game between BC and Clemson will feature two of the nation’s top tacklers in BC linebacker Luke Kuechly and Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. Kuechly leads the nation in tackles per game with 13.9 and is three shy of 100 tackles for the season. Bowers leads the nation in sacks and tackles for loss, and he is on a record-setting pace with 10 sacks in seven games so far this season. Boston College is one of the worst teams in the country in sacks allowed with 2.86 per game. Bowers needs three more to set the record for most sacks in a season in school history by a defensive lineman.
Wake Forest running back Josh Harris. In his first career start against Virginia Tech, Harris rushed 20 times for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Harris’ 241 yards rushing were the most ever allowed by Virginia Tech, surpassing the 239 by Temple’s Paul Palmer in 1986. Harris became the first Deacon since 2005 to rush for over 200 yards in a game. Maryland has the No. 4 rushing defense in the ACC, holding opponents to 143.6 yards per game. The Terps have held each of their last three opponents (Duke, Clemson, and BC) under 100 yards on the ground. It’s the first time the defense has done that since 2004.
Maryland’s secondary. Two players who are having great seasons are flying under the radar in College Park, Md. Against Boston College, safety Antwine Perez had a career-best two interceptions and recovered a fumble. Perez is second on the team in pass breakups (six) and tied for third in the league in interceptions (0.43 pg). Kenny Tate is the leading tackler in the ACC among defensive backs (8.0 per game). He is also atop the league chart with four forced fumbles, the most by a Terp since Milton Harris also had four in 2005.
Shoop vs. Shoop. UNC offensive coordinator John Shoop will face his older brother, William & Mary defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. It is believed to be one of only three matchups in college football this season pitting brothers against each other, according to UNC’s sports information department. (The other two involve Oklahoma). Both Shoops are in their fourth seasons at their respective schools. Carolina is averaging 365 yards per game and the Tribe is allowing just 318 yards. May the best Shoop win.
Pass defenses in Charlottesville. The ACC’s top two pass defenses will be featured in the Miami-Virginia game. Miami leads the ACC with 149.1 passing yards per game allowed, and Virginia follows at 165.4. The Canes have 14 interceptions, Virginia five.