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Purdue's McBurse steps into the spotlight

When asked in March about mentoring fellow Purdue running back Al-Terek McBurse, Ralph Bolden cracked a big smile.

"He always comes to me, asks me some stuff and I tell him," said Bolden, the Big Ten's third-leading rusher in 2009. "I don't know, it's kind of like my little son or something."

The son needs to grow up fast for the Boilermakers.

Wednesday's news that Bolden sustained a torn ACL in his right knee thrust McBurse into the spotlight. The sophomore from Winter Springs, Fla., is working with Purdue's first-team offense and likely will enter the fall as the projected starter at running back. Bolden hasn't been ruled out for the 2010 season, but he would need to make an incredibly fast recovery to play.

"[The coaches] told me it's my time to step up and show everybody I can be a good player," McBurse said via telephone after Wednesday's practice. "I'll just keep pushing, working, taking coaching, and getting better each day."

As you'd expect, McBurse is grateful for his opportunity but disappointed it came after his friend and tutor went down in practice March 31.

"It was a fluke kind of thing," McBurse said. "He was out there, caught a pass, nobody even touched him and he made a cut up field and just went down. I didn't think it was that bad, but I saw him not getting up and they brought the cart to carry him off the field. Then I knew it was pretty bad."

McBurse was Purdue's highest-rated recruit in 2009, one of 12 players signed from the state of Florida. He enrolled early but had to sit out spring practice as he awaited clearance from the NCAA's eligibility clearinghouse.

The 6-foot-1, 198-pound McBurse got the green light after spring ball and practiced in August. He appeared in six games last fall and had only four carries, but he led Purdue in kickoff returns with 19 runbacks for 468 yards and a touchdown.

McBurse plans on continuing to return kicks this fall, even if he's the starting running back.

"I always like one-on-one with a defender in the open field," McBurse said. "I know that's no biggie."

McBurse didn't do much blocking in high school and has focused on his blitz pickup this spring. Purdue always asks its backs to play big roles in the passing game, and McBurse is confident in his receiving skills.

"I'm pretty excited about him," Bolden said in March. "It's kind of cool seeing a young back in the same position I was in. I feel like he's going to be a pretty good back."

McBurse continues to seek and receive advice from Bolden, who will undergo knee surgery in the coming weeks.

"I used to learn from him, watch him, and he coached me up on what I was doing wrong," McBurse said. "To see him go down was really sad for me, but he's a good guy. He still works with me, even though he's [injured], so I thank him for that.

"He just keeps pushing me and lets me know I've got to step it up."