WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- After receiving a third-round grade from the NFL advisory committee this winter, Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short seriously considered skipping his senior year. He talked to his mother, who told him she'd support whatever he wanted to do.
But her eyes told a different story.
"You know how you can tell when somebody really doesn't want you to do something?" Short says, laughing.
Short's family has always stressed education, so the chance to earn his degree in organizational leadership weighed heavily in his decision to return to the Boilermakers. And he has another incentive: improving that draft stock to first-round status.
"I felt like if I had another year, I could develop and become a power player," he said. "Get my body right, get in better shape and learn the game more. That's just motivation to make me strive even harder this year."
When a 6-foot-3, 310-pound force of nature announces that he's going to playing with more fire, that's not exactly what interior offensive linemen hoped to hear. Short was already one of the best defensive tackles in the Big Ten last season, posting 6.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. He squats over 600 pounds, bench presses in the 400s and has nimble feet as a former standout high school basketball player. Good luck moving that out of the way.
About the only criticism you could level against Short is that he didn't always bring it on every down, which is understandable at a position at which 700 pounds of beef is pushing on you every snap. But Purdue coach Danny Hope sees a difference in his star defender this spring.
"He's playing harder on a more consistent basis right now than he was this time last year," Hope said. "He runs to the ball better, pushes himself more and dominates the line of scrimmage more consistently. He's always been able to dominate some; on any given play, Kawann would show up and make a big play.
"But now he's showing up more in practice. If he continues at the pace he's going and gets himself in great shape, he can be a dominant player at his position in our league and on a national level."
Short takes inspiration from former teammate Ryan Kerrigan, whose greatest attribute might be his nonstop motor. Short saw that from Kerrigan not only at Purdue but in the early success Kerrigan has had in the NFL. He wants to become known for the same thing.
"I feel like if he can do it, I can do it," Short said. "It's about being more of that wild guy. Every down be energized. Even if I'm tired, keep going."
That's not always easy for a guy his size who as at times struggled to stay in shape. Short said he's doing extra wind sprints and conditioning drills after practice to build his endurance for the season.
Consistent effort may be all that's holding him back from becoming one of the Big Ten's stars. The league was full of top-flight defensive tackles last year, including Penn State's Devon Still, Michigan's Mike Martin and Michigan State's Jerel Worthy. Could he join those departed All-Americans on that level?
"I wouldn't say I'm one of those guys yet," he said. "I know my name is out there and schools know me right now. But as far as being a dominant player, I have to do something to differentiate myself from others."
One thing he's doing to separate himself is getting his degree. The East Chicago, Ind., native says that from his hometown area, "a lot of guys go off to school, but not many graduate. Something happens, and they leave."
Short, who admits he had to work hard just to get admitted to Purdue, stuck around. While the NFL beckons, he's got backup plans. He says he'd like to run a fitness club/laundromat someday and work to combat obesity.