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Last updated: Fri. Aug. 02, 2013 - 05:24 pm EDT

Hazell looks to change Purdue's football image

Goal is to get program to national prominence

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Darrell Hazell wasn't hired to be a status quo guy. He's a Purdue football coach on a change-and-championship mission, and if that means thinking outside the box, so be it.

In an era of coaching paranoia, when practices are secured tighter than a papal Mass, and tweeting spectators are treated with the warmth of a dinner guest arriving with leprosy, the Boilers will have open preseason training camp workouts. Fans can be there. So can the media. And if they want to tweet, go ahead.

It starts Saturday.

One of Hazell's goals is to reconnect with the Boiler fan base, to grow it if he can. He wants to generate a buzz, and while secrecy might work at, say, Alabama, it's a hindrance at a program that struggled to get Ross-Ade Stadium half full last season.

But that's window dressing for the main agenda, which is to get the program back to the Big Ten forefront it enjoyed a decade ago under Joe Tiller.

“We have a coaching staff with the vision to change Purdue football to where it needs to be,” Hazell said.

“One of the first things I said to our team in that very first meeting, was that Purdue was always a team that was perceived in the middle of the Big Ten. I told them it's going to take a lot of work, but we're going to climb out of the middle. We're going to put this program on national prominence for a long time.”

Hazell took over for Danny Hope and inherited a roster full of speed and talent, although last year's 6-7 record didn't capitalize on it. So Hope was out last November, Hazell was brought in last December and the Rose Bowl standard was instantly set. The Boilers likely won't make it this season, but the goal is there.

“It all starts with your self-image,” Hazell said. “How we see ourselves. If you don't see yourself as a champion, no one else is going to. Then you have to put in the work.”

The Boilers have a lot of work to do given they ranked eighth in scoring offense, 10th in scoring and pass defense, and 11th in total defense last season. They committed two more turnovers than they forced.

“We want to change our image,” Hazell said. “We want to be a tougher team. We want to be a smarter team and play with greater discipline.

“Turning the ball over is probably the No. 1 component to losing. Everybody on our team is responsible for that, from the quarterbacks to the offensive line to the running backs to the defensive backs who pick balls off.

“We have a great responsibility to Purdue football to take care of the ball. That's one of the keys to turning this program around.”

The biggest question entering camp involves who will be the starting quarterback. Fifth-year senior Rob Henry has the experience edge and goes in No. 1 on the depth chart. He was the third-string quarterback last year and completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 216 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

His biggest competition is freshman Danny Etling, who showed promise last spring. He graduated from high school in Terre Haute last December so he could get a jump on his college preparation. Redshirt freshman Austin Appleby also is in the mix.

“We have a nice quarterback battle going on,” Hazell said. “We'll give them equal reps. One guy will run with the 1s in one group in one drill. The next drill the other guy will run with the 1s.

“In about two weeks after we start practice, we'll make a decision and have that guy have ownership of our team going into the first game.”

What will factor into the decision?

“The No. 1 component is to take care of the ball. No. 2 is to get us in the right place. No. 3 is to be tough enough to stand in there on third-and-5, and take a shot.

“And we need a big play.”

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


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