FORT WAYNE — With Purdue running back Ralph Bolden recovering from a knee injury suffered late last season, senior Akeem Shavers is ready for any added responsibilities.
“It’s no pressure,” Shavers said in a phone interview after Tuesday’s practice. “I look at it as another opportunity.
“It’s horrible that he went down. I’m glad that he’s making his way back. He’s looking good right now. It’s more like he’s taking a little break to make sure everything is right, and we’re going to take control of it right now while he’s down. When he gets back, we’re going to have that one-two punch that we had last year.”
Bolden led the Boilermakers in rushing with 674 yards last year. There’s no timetable set for his return. Shavers was second on the team, rushing for 519 yards and six touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 58 yards and one touchdown.
“I anticipate him to start the season with a lot of momentum behind him and be a confident player and doing very well,” Purdue coach Danny Hope said of Shavers at Purdue’s media day. “He has every reason to do very well this season.”
Shavers joined Purdue in January 2011 after transferring from Tyler (Texas) Junior College, where he rushed for 450 yards with three touchdowns in 2010. He averaged nine yards per carry and earned second-team All-Southwest Junior College Football Conference honors.
“It wasn’t too rough once I got here after the first couple of days,” Shavers said of making the transition. “It was a big change with the size of the players and the speed of the game. That was the biggest difference to me. But once I got used to it, it really felt like I belonged here all along.”
Shavers rushed for 42 yards and one touchdown on seven carries in last year’s season opener against Middle Tennessee. He saved his best performance for the last game of the season, rushing for a career-high 149 yards in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl victory against Western Michigan and was named the game’s MVP.
Shavers, voted one of the offensive captains in the spring, worked on improving his quickness, lateral movement and “focusing on the whole field instead of having tunnel vision” during the offseason.
Hope said Shavers has also become a better blocker.
“From a protection standpoint, he understands what we’re doing a lot better now,” Hope said. “There’s a lot of stuff that can come at you when the defenses start bring pressure and blitzes.”
Shavers hopes the work leads to a big season.
“I want to rush for 1,000 yards,” Shavers said. “I have a great offensive line. They really give me the confidence that I can do it and I feel comfortable in saying it. My coaches have confidence in letting us run the ball. That’s one thing that helps me be as confident as I am.”