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August 19, 2008

'I'm going to have to have a great season'

Kory Sheets badly wanted to be Purdue's starting running back.

But not like this.

The senior has the job, and most of the carries, all to himself now, following an apparently serious knee injury sustained by classmate and "co-starter" Jaycen Taylor.

"I wanted to be the featured guy, but still be able to share it with my partner," Sheets said Monday. "I won't say it's bittersweet, because there isn't anything sweet about this deal. It's really unfortunate."

Nothing is for certain just yet on Taylor, who was to undergo tests and consult with doctors Tuesday, but Coach Joe Tiller himself admitted Monday he does not anticipate good news.

Taylor does have a redshirt year available if the injury is in fact serious enough to merit its use.

That scenario would leave Sheets all by himself atop the depth chart, with Purdue's expected 50/50 split in the backfield a thing of the past, barring a dramatic emergence by another ball-carrier.

"I think I can carry (the load)," said Sheets, who needs just six total touchdowns this season to become Purdue's all-time leader. "I did it for four weeks last year and hopefully I can do it the whole season this year."

Those four weeks came last fall, after Taylor broke his arm against Central Michigan.

With his sidekick sidelined last year, Sheets torched Minnesota for 111 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, with seven catches for 60 yards and another score. Purdue won that game.

The following week, the Boilermakers beat Notre Dame, with Sheets going for a career-high 141 yards, with one touchdown, on 27 carries.

But against Ohio State, Sheets' luck went the way of Purdue's entire offense as he ran for just 20 yards and the Boilermaker offense was muted by the powerful Buckeye defense.

The following week was equally forgettable, as Sheets fumbled in the first quarter at Michigan, then watched the rest of the game from the sideline.

Sheets hopes his likely extended stint as Purdue's clear-cut No. 1 running back goes the like those first two games.

"I think I responded really well last year and I think the coaches thought I did, too," he said. "I think I gave them a lot of faith that I could handle the running game and they could put it on my shoulders."

They will do that now.

"I'm going to have to have a great season in order for our team to have a successful running game, I think," Sheets said. "You can't have a good team in the Big Ten if you're not able to run the ball."

Taylor's been valuable to Purdue for so many more reasons than just his ability and productivity.

One of the many other ways has been in the competition he's provided Sheets.

"I'm really going to miss him a whole lot," Sheets admits. "I told him (after he was hurt), 'I need you by my side, behind me, in front of me, wherever, to push me, pull me, whatever he does to make me play better."

Sheets then joked as he reminded himself Taylor will still be around, even if not in uniform, if he in fact cannot play.

"I can't let up, because even though Jaycen's not going to be playing, he's still going to be there," Sheets joked, "and I'm still going to have to hear his annoying little voice in the back of my head or in the crowd, saying, 'Kory, what are you doing? You're not doing this right or that right.'

"I have to make sure I do everything right so I don't have to hear his mouth."

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