September 27, 2006

Pender ready to knock 'em down


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A rivalry - presumably a friendly one - is beginning to heat up between cornerback David Pender and receiver Kyle Ingraham.

According to Pender, though, it's been a one-sided affair thus far. The former nine-time Georgia track state champion, whose been dubbed Purdue's "jump-ball specialist," has been trying to perfect his leaping ability during practice, routinely matching up with the 6-foot-9 Ingraham.

"I beat him every time," the 6-1, 175-pound Pender said, "I just go up there and knock it down from him.

"It's a matter of timing and judging the ball. The receiver is always going to try to outmuscle you, especially me with my size, so I just try to judge the ball and go up and knock it down. If I can get the pick, I'll try to get the pick."

The practice, along with Pender's natural ability, has already paid off. Against Minnesota Saturday, he out-leaped 6-5 Gopher wide receiver Ernest Wheelwright in the corner of the end zone, tipping a would-be touchdown away, allowing it to be picked off by a teammate.

"He's got unbelievable explosiveness," secondary coach Lou Anarumo said, "in terms of being able to jump like that. I think that we're trying to use what he's good at right now and use it to his advantage and our advantage as a team."

Pender's athletic ability shouldn't be surprising. The Folkston, Ga., native won state championships in the triple jump (46-08) and long jump (24-00), along with the 100-meter dash and the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.

Despite those credentials, Pender was still seen as a bit of a project coming into training camp. But circumstance - the Boilermakers are without cornerbacks Brandon King (academics) and Aaron Lane (injury), while Zach Logan has struggled - have pushed Pender to the field far sooner than anyone expected.

After playing only sparingly in Purdue's first three games, he ascended to nickel back prior to the Boilers facing the Gophers. And that's where he'll be when Purdue takes on Notre Dame Saturday.

"I think he is (ahead of schedule)," Coach Joe Tiller said, "but only because of the situation. If we weren't needing another corner, he'd probably be redshirting."

While that's likely true, Tiller says the coaching staff could tell early on that Pender had plenty of upside.

"He runs and jumps extremely well," Tiller said. "I can remember during two-a-days, him making a play over the top. I don't know where he came from, but he just jumped over the top of a guy and deflected the ball. As a staff, everyone kind of went, 'Oooo, look at this guy.'"

Because Pender's still raw, Tiller says the Boilermakers are trying to use him only in situations where he can be successful, in an effort not to overload the rookie with information.

"I'm feeling really good," Pender said. "I'm getting a lot more of the technique down, learning more of the plays and I'm really feeling better. The coaches are starting to gain a lot more trust in me to do my job on the field."




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