After a 1-11 season in his first year, Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell needed to restock the cupboard, and he hopes the Boilermakers have done that with a 19-member recruiting class. I caught up with Hazell for this Q&A:
What were some of your goals heading in to this class?
Darrell Hazell: We needed to add talent and address some needs, and I think our coaches did a good job of that. Offensive line was huge for us, as well as the defensive backs and also the linebacker position, being able to fill those needs.
You had a tough first season, but did that mean you were able to sell immediate playing time to recruits?
DH: That’s the big selling point. We could say you have an opportunity to play very early in your career if you do the things you're supposed to do. Sometimes that helps. Unfortunately, you don’t want to go through a season like that, but we’re going to be better because of it in the long run.
You have signees from Texas, Florida, Virginia, Arkansas and other states. What is your geographic strategy?
DH: First of all, recruit the state of Purdue, which is the six states that are close to us. And then outside of our area, we’ll hit Texas, Georgia and Florida. Those are the three primary areas we try to emphasize based on the numbers. Those three states were the only ones other than Ohio and California that had over 100 players sign Division I scholarships last year. So we based a lot of things off of that. And then a lot has to do with the ties to our university.
Because of the struggles last year, do you expect a lot of these signees to contribute right away?
DH: You know, it’s always hard to say that. You’d like to say that part of this class in combination with the nucleus of players already in the program can help us win. That’s what you'd like to have a nice blend of.
One of your most-talked about recruits is quarterback David Blough. You guys were in on him early. What did you see in him as a player, and what do you expect from him?
DH: I think he’s special, I really do, just from watching him. We had the fortune of watching him in camp, being able to see his good throws and bad throws, and that's important, especially as a quarterback. The things I like about David are, he gets the ball out of his hands fast. He plants that back foot and the ball comes flying out, and he’s got tremendous accuracy with his throws. And he’s very cerebral about the game. He’s probably one of the biggest competitors as a young guy that I’ve been around.
It looks like you've added some size and strength in this class. How much of a goal was that, with the physical style you want to play?
DH: That definitely was an emphasis for us, to try and get Big Ten strong and get Big Ten big. We needed to get some bigger bodies. You see our two linebackers, one is 245 pounds and the other is in the mid-230s right now, and that’s pretty good size for guys coming in. Our offensive line is very large. I just thought we needed to get a little bit bigger.
Linebacker Gelen Robinson is the son of Boilers basketball legend Glenn Robinson. What do you see out of him?
DH: Well, he’s so instinctive. Just watching his film, he scrapes the line of scrimmage, hits the open gap and goes to make a play in the backfield. You watch how natural he is, and though he had great coaching in high school, when he gets even better coaching in college, you say he's got a chance to get on the field pretty quickly.
Defensive back was a priority. What do you like about the guys you signed there?
DH: I like our length on the edges. We have two corners over 6 feet, and any time you get 6-1 corners with long arms and play man-to-man coverage, that’s going to help you. Then we brought in another corner with phenomenal feet in Cedric Dale. He's got great quickness and he's also a great return man for us. So I'm really excited for those guys in the back end.
Do you see those long defensive backs becoming more of a trend, especially with the success of the Seattle Seahawks?
DH: I think it helps, obviously, if they can run. Any time you get some length on the outside, it's so hard for wide receivers to go up and make a play on those balls against those long corners, and they always have their hands on receivers.
Your highest-rated recruit, according to ESPN.com, is receiver Gregory Phillips. Tell us about him.
DH: He’s pretty special. You just watch him transition from his routes, and he’s a great run-after-the-catch guy. He puts his foot in the ground and he gets the ball north and south. I think you’re going to see a lot of great football out of that young man. It also helps us that we took one tailback [Dexter Knox] and he's dynamic. He rushed for 27 touchdowns in a season and caught another 10. So the guy knows how to get the ball in the end zone. He's about 5-9 and 200 pounds with tremendous balance and explosiveness. So we’re excited to see how he gets in the fold and how quickly he can get into the fold.
Finally, how were you guys received on the recruiting trail after a tough season?
DH: I think our coaches have done a nice job trying to cultivate the relationships with area coaches here. It’s one conversation at a time, it really is. They understand who we are and what we’re going to be about. It's a process, and sometimes it takes a little longer than others, but the coaches have accepted us for what we’re trying to do here and what we will do here.