April 28, 2009

Post-spring focus: David Pender

David Pender's 13 passes defended a year ago were good for third-best in the Big Ten, but as the cornerback enters his final season at Purdue, he's hoping to do more than just bat balls down.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pounder speedster had only one interception in '08, so - in combination with the defense's primary goal of creating more turnovers this season - he's looking for that total to take a jump.

"That's one thing we want to focus on," said Pender, whose 20 career breakups ranks as the 19th-best total in school history. "Last year, I had a lot of pass breakups, but we want to focus on getting interceptions, forcing more fumbles and getting more turnovers, because that will put our offense in a better position to score more points."

Following the final spring of his career, the senior feels as though he's in the best shape possible to make that happen. Having battled foot injuries off and on during his first three seasons, Pender says he's 100 percent healthy now.

That, plus his natural athleticism and his wealth of experience - he's started 20 games during his career and has played in 19 others - has him holding high expectations for himself and the secondary this season.

"There's a lot of hype, especially for us in the secondary being an experienced group," said the Folkston, Ga., native. "So I feel like I can live up to the hype and maybe even go beyond that."

Pender, a nine-time state track champion at Charlton County, says his experience is now his No. 1 asset. As a raw, but extremely athletic true freshman in '06, Pender was forced into action as Purdue's primary nickel and end zone "jump-ball" corner. A year later, he started the final seven games of the season, recording 44 tackles, six breakups and a pick. Then, he became the Boilers' No. 1 corner last year, when he started all 12 and had 32 tackles, the 13 defended passes and an interception.

Considering all his experience, Pender says there's little more he can learn as far as approach and technique, but that doesn't mean he's taken it easy this off-season. Instead, he's spent plenty of time in the weight room, as he tries to become a more complete cornerback.

"As far as techniques and things like that, I have those pretty down pad," he said, "so I'm just working on being more physical and gaining more weight."

If Pender can make gains in those areas, he thinks he can begin to turn some of those breakups into turnovers, as he knows that's often the statistic in which cornerbacks are truly judged, fairly or not.

"I think last year I was just focusing on knocking the ball down," he said, "and not really focusing on getting picks. When I first came in my main focus just to play to the best of my abilities and not think about the next level. But I ended up turning out to be a pretty decent player, so I need to work on things that will help me at the next level if I get the opportunity."

Those are lofty - but reasonable - expectations for the former two-star recruit, who's turned himself into one of the better cornerbacks to play at Purdue in recent history. And he could be even better in '09.

"David's a very talented individual," Defensive coordinator Donn Landholm said. "He's played here for a lot of years, has a lot of experience and understands the game well."

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