There aren’t any players on the current Eastern Kentucky University roster that ever played for Danny Hope.
Still, there is a connection between this year’s senior class and the former Colonel head coach.
“There are seven or eight guys here who signed with coach Hope,” EKU senior offensive lineman Patrick Ford said. “So, even in our senior class there are very few guys who actually know him. Still, I really don’t think it (will be) a big factor this weekend.”
Those seniors will get a chance to face Hope today when the Colonels travel to Purdue for the season opener.
Game time is set for 3:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network.
Hope played at EKU and was a linebacker on the Colonels’ 1979 National Championship Team. He served as the head coach of his alma mater for five seasons (2003-2007, 35-22, one OVC title) before taking over at Purdue.
Dean Hood was named the head coach after Hope left and one his of first tasks was to secure the commitments that the previous coaching staff had received.
“I got here Jan. 22 and I think on Jan. 23 I was on a plane to get visit Justin Bell, who had already committed,” Hood said. “Aaron Adams was the next stop. And before I got on the plane, I went and talked to Patrick Ford. So, coach Hope’s staff had recruited a lot of those kids.”
Those seniors, including Ford, Adams (offensive line) and Bell (defensive back), played a big role in helping the Colonels win an OVC title last season.
The road to a repeat starts with a trip to West Lafayette, Ind.
EKU’s seniors and Hope both know there might be some mixed emotions, but everyone understands that won’t have much of an impact on the outcome.
“The game is not about me,” Hope said. “It’s about Purdue versus EKU. Anytime you are going against (your alma mater), I think that’s exciting. When I was a player I really want to get after it to earn the respect of my teammates. I really thought that was important. Honestly, I want my team to play well so that the people where I came from (EKU) can see that I am doing a good job here. I want to make a good impression.”
In recent years, EKU has put together impressive performances against Football Bowl Subdivision competition.
Last season, the Colonels had a four-point lead in the closing minutes only to see Kansas State pull out a 10-7 win in Manhattan, Kan.
In 2009, EKU had a chance to score the game-winning touchdown on the final play of the game, but came up short at Indiana, 19-13.
In 2010, the Colonels battled Louisville until the final buzzer before falling, 23-13.
Still, EKU hasn’t defeated an FBS school since beating Louisville 45-21 in 1985 (Hope was an assistant coach on that UofL team).
“It’s an exhilarating experience to play in front of 55,000 fans,” EKU junior linebacker Ichiro Vance said. “But, when it comes down to it, it’s just about playing another team. They are in college, just like us, and just playing the game we all love. It’s just a mindset. No matter if it’s Kansas State or Austin Peay, you’ve got to have the same attitude.”
For the second-straight year, Jared McClain will likely start the season opener. The sophomore completed nine-of-26 passes for 119 yards and two interceptions against Kansas State.
He also scored EKU’s only touchdown of the game, a 1-yard run.
McClain had been locked in a tight battle for the starting spot with senior T.J. Pryor. But, after Pryor suffered a hamstring injury in training camp, McClain jumped to the top of the depth chart.
“We wish he would have gotten a little more playing time last year after the season opener,” Hood said of McClain. “He did a great job against Kansas State. We’ve still got some days. We will see how the rest of the week goes and how T.J. improves. And how they look in warm-ups. They are both capable.”
In his third season at the school, Hope led Purdue to the postseason last year for the first time since 2007. The Boilermakers defeated Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Bowl, giving the schools its ninth bowl game victory.
Purdue lost only six starters from a team that won seven games, and is set to return 50 letterwinners. The Boilermakers have four quarterbacks on the roster who have started at least one game at the FBS level. Senior Caleb TerBush will likely start the season opener, but Robert Marve and Rob Henry Jr. could see playing time as well.
Purdue also returns Antavian Edison, a receiver who has caught a pass in 21 straight games, cornerback Ricardo Allen, who is a candidate for several national awards, preseason All-American tackle Kawann Short and standout offensive linemen Rick Schmeig (center), Peters Drey (guard) and Trevor Foy (tackle).
“They are really similar scheme-wise to our defense,” Ford said of Purdue. “A lot of over-under fronts. So, there’s really no tricks or schemes we are going to come up with. We are run-first offense. We are a running team. Hopefully we can make some plays against them.”
Last season, Purdue faced another OVC school and rolled to a 59-0 win over Southeast Missouri State.