September 2, 2006
The one player Purdue could ill afford to lose for any amount of time is likely done for the season.
Sophomore strong safety Torri Williams suffered a severe right knee injury during Purdue's 60-35 season-opening win over Indiana State Saturday, shelving him for the foreseeable future and perhaps - although it may be too soon to speculate - ending his career.
According to defensive coordinator Brock Spack, Williams tore all three major ligaments in his knee - the ACL, MCL and PCL - and will likely need two surgeries.
For a Boilermaker squad already facing questions about its secondary, the loss of Williams, who also sat all of last season with injury, turned what should have been an upbeat post-game interview room into a quiet, somber affair.
"Losing a player like Torri Williams is devastating," cornerback Zach Logan said. "But now somebody just has to step up. Losing Torri Williams, though, is devastating.
Williams, thought to be the main cog in Purdue's rebuilt defensive backfield, suffered the injury in the third quarter of Purdue's victory. On a long ISU pass attempt down the left sideline, Williams jumped to try to knock what was likely an uncatchable ball out of the air. On the landing, though, his right knee buckled under him, leaving him immobile on the Boilermaker sideline.
"He goes up and plays the ball great and just comes down wrong," secondary coach Lou Anarumo said. "It's one of those things where you can't prevent it. He couldn't have done anything different; he did exactly what he's supposed to do. It's just bad luck, I guess. I don't know."
The bad luck started for Williams more than a year ago. In April of 2005, the Texas native suffered a broken right leg during spring practice. Then, three months later, it was discovered that he had torn ligaments in his right foot, an injury that sidelined him for the ensuing season.
The loss of Williams was only the first of a series of setbacks for the Boilermaker secondary in '05. Free safety Kyle Smith missed significant time - and was never 100-percent - with a leg injury, and cornerback Brian Hickman was out a couple games after dislocating his elbow.
Meanwhile, the Purdue pass defense, forced to turn to inexperienced backups, struggled to stop anyone, ranking nearly last in the country in yardage allowed.
Although there were still question marks entering 2006, it was hoped that the return of Williams would help solidify that area for the Boilermakers.
Another injury to the beleaguered unit is almost unbelievable.
"Yeah, pretty much," Anarumo said. "I feel bad for Torri more than I feel bad for us. He's really worked hard to get back to a position where he can play."
After the game, wide receiver Dorien Bryant seemed almost heartbroken.
"It's rough," he said. "The kid can't catch a break. He was going to be a big impact player for us this year and now it looks like his year is over.
"He's a good friend of mine. It's really unfortunate, but we have to keep going, I know he wouldn't want anything differently."
Williams' injury is similar to the one sustained last year by then Minnesota Vikings' quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who has since recovered to play this preseason for the Miami Dolphins. But returning to play safety, a position that requires much more speed and agility than QB, after such an injury may be quite a challenge.
"I really feel bad for Torri," Coach Joe Tiller said, "because the guy is really snake bitten in a sense that he missed all of last season then you turn around and suffer this kind of injury in the first game of the season, an injury that will most likely end his season. I'll be surprised if he comes back this season, but we hope he will."
Without Williams, the Boilers will now turn to a group that includes true freshman Brandon Erwin, walk-on redshirt freshman Adam Wolf and junior college transfer Justin Scott to fill the void.
"We'll regroup," Logan said of the secondary. "It's going to take a lot of hard work."
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