The Big Ten kicks off its regular season Saturday with two matches – Michigan at Purdue and Minnesota at Michigan State.
On paper, the former looks like it could be pretty lopsided. Michigan is 2-0, with two high profile wins – over Wheeling Jesuit and Notre Dame. Purdue hasn’t been able to get a preseason game played, and the Boilermakers are coming off a winless campaign in the inaugural Big Ten season.
Purdue lost their coach just before last season began, which negatively affected player commitment. They brought in a new coach in the spring, Mark Behrens, and started to put the puzzle back together. This season, they have a lot of fresh faces they hope to get competitive quickly.
“I think we have a pretty solid group of young players now that hopefully will be developing throughout the season,” said Purdue president and captain Kevin Lamb.
“We’re not focusing so much on wins and losses. We’re focusing on rebuilding the program, so from the bottom up we want to get a lot freshmen in and have them develop over the years. So our focus each week is just to improve. When we go into games, which we were awful at last year, is we don’t want to beat ourselves…We can handle losing games if the other team’s just better than us, but it really makes us mad when we just beat ourselves and stupid mistakes cause us to lose.”
Even though a loss Saturday almost seems imminent, Lamb says the Boilermakers are eager to start the season against a quality opponent.
“I think we’re looking forward to it, because obviously from the results they’ve had, they’re a very good team,” Lamb said. “I think it will be a very good test to start the season to see where we are what we need to improve on.”
Minnesota, like Purdue, recently underwent a coaching change. Rob Holder, who won a National Championship with Air Force and coached Stanford, as well as several select sides, and founded the Spearhead Academy, is the newest Golden Gopher skipper.
He’s unfamiliar with the Big Ten and his opponents, but he has a plan.
“We’re really putting an emphasis on skills work as opposed to team play,” said Holder. “Just trying to keep our team play really basic, so we can improve our skills. Hopefully by the end of the fall, we should have a pretty good team put together, but it’s going to take some time.”
Holder took the job with a working knowledge of a couple of his players, having coached them on Minnesota’s High School All Star team. One of them is prop Peyton Lauber, who Holder is a big fan of.
“Really top prospect as a prop. He can play both sides, physical,” said Holder of Lauber. “He’s actually got a pretty good skill set around the field for a guy his size. I think he’s going to be very good.”
The Gophers also have a couple of guys who spent the summer playing 7s with Youngbloodz in Jack Butterfield and Ryan LeClaire. The latter is a local prospect hailing from the Minnesota State Champion Edina program.
“Good communicator. Strong leader,” said Holder of LeClaire. “He’s also the president club, but he’s a leader on and off the field. Really good kid. I think he’s going to do some good stuff.”
Saturday marks the first meeting between Minnesota and Michigan State in Big Ten play.