Purdue's Mostert sprinting toward success

Who's the fastest man in the Big Ten?

Several players can make that claim, but only one has the gold medals to back it up. Purdue's Raheem Mostert swept the 100- and 200-meter sprints at the Big Ten outdoor track and field championships in West Lafayette last week, adding to the two conference sprint titles he won earlier this year during the indoor season.

It doesn't qualify as news that the Boilermakers senior is swift of foot. He led the FBS in kick return yardage as a true freshman in 2011, after all. Other than that, though, Mostert's biggest accomplishments at Purdue happened on the track this year. Football coach Darrell Hazell would like to change that.

"He's an elite, elite track runner, and he's going to be an elite football player for us this fall," Hazell told ESPN.com. "We're crazy if we don't have him touch the ball 20-plus times a game."

You might consider it, then, a brief bout of insanity that Mostert has touched the ball on offense only 44 times in three years, including just 12 times in 2013. That doesn't make much sense on the surface for a team that was starved for playmakers as much as the Boilers were last fall.

But Mostert, Hazell said, was miscast as a slot receiver last offseason and didn't move back to his more natural position of running back until the end of fall camp. He got just 11 carries last season for 37 yards and one catch for six yards. His season highlight came on special teams, where he had a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown against Penn State.

"I was down on myself," Mostert said. "I switched from wide receiver to running back so late that I literally had to work my way up.

"I have a little chip on my shoulder. I want to show my coaches that they missed out on me last season. But they weren't the only ones. Everyone did. I just want to turn it around."

Mostert, who didn't run track a year ago because of a knee injury he suffered in the 2012 football season, went back to work as a sprinter this winter with Hazell's full blessing. The schedule between the two sports works out well, as running track helps Mostert's conditioning for football and football helped keep him in shape all spring. He had to miss a few early-season track meets because of spring practice, and Hazell let him take it easy some days during spring drills when a big weekend meet loomed.

There was also some unexpected overlap. After Mostert tasted victory in the indoor season -- he won the Big Ten 60- and 200-meter titles -- he gained confidence in himself that he carried over into football.

"After winter track season, he looked and walked and talked like a different guy in spring football," Hazell said. "He looked so much more comfortable, and that's because he did experience so much success."

Track is often a solitary sport that requires discipline and focus when you're crouching in the starter's block waiting for the pistol blast. Mostert said honing those skills helped him concentrate more in meeting rooms and before taking carries on the field in football.

He'll join another blazer in the Boilers backfield, as senior Akeem Hunt also has sprinter's speed and comes from a family of track athletes. With those two on the field at the same time, Hazell hopes the offense can create some matchup problems and improve on last season's paltry 2.5-yards-per-carry mark, which ranked second-to-last in the FBS.

Mostert also insists he's not just a fast guy. At 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds, he prides himself on being a physical running back who can pound the ball between the tackles as well.

"He's a football guy running track," Hazell said. "You can see it when he puts his shoulder down and his foot in the ground -- he knocks people backwards. I think he's a little more powerful than people think."

While football remains Mostert's top priority, track season isn't over yet. He'll run in next week's NCAA East Regionals in Jacksonville, Florida, with a goal of making the nationals. His times in the 100 (10.25 seconds) and 200 (20.66) rank among the top 14 of qualified runners in the East Regional.

"Raheem can be as good as anyone in the nation," Purdue men's sprints coach Norbert Elliott said. "He's got a huge upside. He's a little raw in terms of mechanics. But if he were to spend full time doing it, there's nothing that couldn't be improved and sharpened up.

"There's no doubt he's got the strength and all the raw tools to go very far in track. Of course, I'd like to see him playing football on Sundays, because he's got those skills as well."

Mostert said he would like to try and make the U.S. Olympic team one day if football doesn't work out. But his goal is to have a big senior season for the Boilermakers, then hopefully impress speed-obsessed NFL scouts.

"I don't think people realize how fast 10.2, 10.3 (in the 100 meters) is," Hazell said. "That's a different type of fast."

The challenge for Mostert and Purdue is figuring out how to make sure the fastest man in the Big Ten becomes one of the league's best football players, too.