Defensive tackle Kawann Short admits he can feel the pressure, and it comes in the form of a 6-foot-5, 283-pounder.
Short, a redshirt freshman, is hanging on to one of Purdue's starting D-tackle positions, but whether he can continue to do so in the week-plus 'til the season-opener remains to be seen. His competition for the post, previously alluded to sophomore Nick Mondek, is challenging in what has become one of the most hotly contested battles of the fall.
"It's a lot of pressure," Short admitted after practice Tuesday. "I've got to keep working hard and stay consistent."
Short might never have ascended to the starting role had Mondek not suffered an off-the-field injury that kept him from participating in spring practice. During a spring break trip to Florida, the Naperville, Ill., native sustained a broken nose during an apparent altercation. Mondek wasn't disciplined here, but his busted nose forced him to sit, and opened the door for Short.
"It was pretty bad, frustrating," Mondek said of missing the spring. "It was annoying, I don't know, it kind of sucked. To watch everybody else play and have fun and not be able to do it, wasn't good."
Mondek, though, is trying to make up for lost ground now. Although he's not yet completely caught Short, he's darn close, with Coach Danny Hope all but calling the duo 1 and 1A on the depth chart.
"Mondek coming on is huge for our football team," Hope said when asked about the competition between the two Tuesday. "He's over 300 pounds. He's put a lot of weight on since I first came here and I think he's just getting to the point where he's carrying his weight better. Got himself in shape and he fits into his uniform a lot better than he did two or three weeks ago."
The same could be said for Short, who's almost completely changed his body shape since arriving as an overweight freshman a season ago. Then, he had ballooned to 330 pounds - much of it bad weight - and suffered the effects of it, feeling slow and unathletic, an exact reversal of what were thought to be his two greatest strengths.
So during the off-season, following year in which he redshirted, Short rededicated himself to conditioning and in the weight room.
"I've cut down a lot of weight since I first got here," said the 6-foot-4 Short. "I figured if I worked hard, I could get a shot somewhere, even if it was with the 2s or 3s. I was going to work hard, so I could get to the next level."
He's done better than that. With Mondek's injury, Short ran with the first unit during the spring, showing off his new body and displaying again the athleticism that made him a standout basketball player in East Chicago, Ind.
Toward the end of training camp, Hope applauded Short's ability to make plays, sometimes even doing so after appearing to be too far removed from the action.
"He went from being a slower guy with all that weight to being much faster," Mondek said. "He' got good ball recognition, like based on where the blocks are he can (react) off those. That alone says enough about him, he knows how to play the game."
Mondek says he's feeling the same these days as well, especially after getting a taste of action last season. In 2008, as a backup to starter Mike Neal and now departed Ryan Baker, Mondek had seven tackles and a fumble recovery.
"That helped a lot," he said. "The experience was definitely needed. It's a lot different playing in a game and practice. I think playing in a game takes things to a whole different level; it's a lot faster with a lot more experience guys.
"I started making more plays as the season went on. I started picking up the speed more and was able to play at that speed. I could just go out and do my own thing, have some fun, make plays and compete."
Whether or not Mondek grabs the starting role from Short, both know they'll play critical roles this season. The starter, whoever it is, will need a break, as will Neal, and Purdue will use a three-player rotation.
But, needless to say, they're pushing each other to be No. 1
"We're feeding off each other," Mondek said. "I see him make a play (and) I've got to make a play next."
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