Purdue no longer has Ryan Kerrigan, a first-round NFL draft pick this spring, but the Boilermakers have another star in the making on the defensive line. Junior tackle Kawann Short was named the Big Ten's co-defensive player of the week for his two-sack, 3.5 tackle-for-loss performance last week against Illinois. The 6-foot-3, 310-pounder has emerged alongside Devon Still, Jerel Worthy, John Simon and others as a standout interior lineman in this league. I recently caught up with Short on the eve of Purdue's game at Michigan for this week's Friday Q&A:
What has been the key to your success so far this season?
Kawann Short: Just watching film, doing what the coaches tell me to do. I'm trying to be consistent, to not let up in practice and go hard all the time. And it's showing up in the games on Saturday.
Danny Hope said your improved conditioning has been a big key. How has that helped you this season?
KS: It's been a dramatic change from my freshman year to now. My weight has fluctuated, but it's also about being muscular and just pushing myself, really. As a young guy, you're really not always pushing yourself as hard as you could. As an older guy, I want to set an example for the younger guys.
How many more snaps can you play now with your better conditioning?
KS: I can play a whole game. At Penn State, I played the whole game, and at the end of the day, it wasn't bad. Last year, I could probably play no more than like 50 or 60 snaps. On Saturday [against Illinois], I played like 70 or 80, and I felt pretty good about it.
Are you seeing a lot more double teams now?
KS: Yeah. People told me it was going to happen. Teams see you getting better, and they start focusing on you more. I don't even acknowledge it, just because I've been in that position before. Now it's time for the younger guys to step up and beat the one-on-ones.
What did you learn in playing next to Ryan Kerrigan?
KS: Just as far as his intensity and energy and his drive. I've never seen that man take a play off or even mess up in a game. I'm trying to be like him now, where in meetings you never hear my name except when they say, "Good job here" or "Good job there." Playing next to Ryan gave me that energy, knowing that you've got to go every time you put your hand down in the grass and don't even think about tiredness. That's the biggest thing I learned from him.
Did you feel responsibility to become more of a leader after he left?
KS: Well, Gerald Gooden is the leader and a captain. But we're the two older guys on the line, so we have to set an example. He's doing it for the defensive ends, and I'm doing it for the tackles.
What was it like Saturday when you guys beat a ranked team for the first time since 2009?
KS: It felt great after the win. Holding them scoreless until the fourth quarter was a blessing, and it was great to see the whole team coming together like that. Now we know we're capable of doing it. Every Saturday, any team can be beat and you just have to be ready to play and bring it. We're going to try to do that the rest of these Saturdays in the conference.
You need two more wins, but do you feel like you guys can get to a bowl game for the first time since 2007?
KS: Most definitely. It's a must. We've got to. We've been out too long, and everybody is just hungry. We've been going home for Christmas and watching other teams and players and knowing we could be playing. We're trying not to go home this year.
Would not making a bowl be a disappointment now?
KS: Yeah, just because now we're a whole lot better team. Everybody's mindset is definitely different and we're working hard. That would hurt us. It would be a sharp pain in our stomachs just to know we could have been bowl eligible but we didn't do it.
What are the challenges for a defensive lineman when facing Denard Robinson this weekend?
KS: Just his quickness. You have to stay true to your assignments, because if you have any little mess-up, he can take off. He's a very good quarterback and runner. As far as the D-line, we've got to stay in our gaps. We've got to keep control and keep contain. If we do that, we should be in good shape.
You have four blocked kicks in your career. What's the secret to that?
KS: To be honest, I'm not doing it by myself. The guy next me helps me to get the push. All I'm doing is throwing my arms up and jumping a little bit. Ryan Kerrigan helped me do it a couple times. Bruce Gaston, Ryan Isaac and Brandon Taylor, all those guys helped me get one. I can't take all the credit, knowing those guys were with me all the time. All you need is that good push and to throw your hands up.
Is it true you didn't play football until eighth grade?
KS: Yeah. A lot of people were in my head telling me to go play. When I went to high school I wasn't even going to play, but one of the coaches told me to try out. I just stuck with it because it was something I was good at. I was more of a basketball player, but when I learned I could do both, I stuck with it.
And you won an Indiana state title in basketball with former Purdue star E'Twaun Moore as your high school teammate?
KS: It was in 2007, his senior year and my junior year. That was a great year, because it was also the year I committed to Purdue.
What position did you play?
KS: I played center. We had a 6-11 guy, but he played the 4 and the 3. I was going up against guys who were like 6-6, 6-7, but I was handling it pretty well. My big body kept me going.
You must have been a pretty good rebounder.
KS: Yeah, that was where all my points came off of. I was a double-double guy.
When did you know football was your future?
KS: Probably my sophomore year. I was just playing basketball because I really enjoyed myself and I couldn't see myself not playing. It helped me stay in condition and helped me get my footwork and coordination right. So it was definitely a plus.