WEST LAFAYETTE – Kory Sheets doesn’t lack confidence.
He’s always thought of himself as a top running back, a guy with enough talent to produce a 1,000-yard season.
Now, he’ll get his chance.
With Jaycen Taylor out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, Sheets is the featured back in Purdue’s spread offense.
He’s ready for the challenge.
“I like when the pressure is all on me,” said Sheets, who likely will be backed up by sophomore Dan Dierking. “I kind of get on a couple of the coaches’ nerves because I’m always like, ‘Put it on my shoulders. I can do it.’ Sometimes it doesn’t call for it to be all on my shoulders, but I’m always like, ‘I can handle it. Give me a chance.’ So I feel like the pressure that’s going to come on my shoulders the next couple months, I’m going to be able to handle it.”
Even while splitting carries with Taylor the past two seasons, Sheets put up good numbers, helped by his ability to break big plays. He ran for 859 yards last season and 780 as a sophomore, and he’s had at least one run for 30 yards or more in each of his three seasons.
He’s also had a knack for scoring touchdowns. With 37 touchdowns, Sheets is only six scores shy of surpassing Mike Alstott to become Purdue’s all-time touchdowns leader.
That’s a record Sheets would appreciate, but, for now, reaching 1,000 yards is one of his top priorities.
“I could have done it last year,” Sheets said. “I missed a lot of big plays last year with not cutting the right way or just going down easily. So it could have happened last year, but it just didn’t. Me and Jaycen, both of our goals was to see 1,000 yards this year, and the way we’d been working, we both were capable of attaining that goal this year.”
Besides injury, one thing that could derail Sheets from reaching his yardage goal is his penchant for fumbling. Coach Joe Tiller doesn’t have much tolerance for that, and that might not change even without Taylor.
When Taylor was out last season with a broken arm, Sheets still was pulled early against Michigan after losing a fumble.
But Sheets excelled without Taylor in the lineup and with more carries.
He had 21 for 144 yards and two touchdowns against Central Michigan, the game Taylor got hurt. He followed that with a 21-carry, 111-yard performance and a 27-carry, 141-yard effort.
The Boilermakers will need more of those performances for the offense to be successful in 2008.
Senior quarterback Curtis Painter is talented, but he’s working with a largely unproven group of receivers. Tiller said he thinks it could take some time for the passing game to find its rhythm, so that could mean relying on Sheets early.
Tiller has been pleased with Sheets’ work during camp.
“He’s practiced hard. He’s run hard. I think he’s elevated his game,” Tiller said.
If Sheets doesn’t continue to work hard and improve, he won’t only have Tiller telling him about it: Taylor has been doing that for years, and it won’t stop with him relegated to the sidelines.
“He’s going to go out and play even harder just because we kind of push each other, but he’s going to play even harder that I’m not there to push him,” said Taylor, who plans to redshirt. “He knows it’s big (that) he comes out and plays hard, and he’s going to be the running back. He will have to answer to me if he’s messing up or if I don’t feel he’s performing up to his capabilities.”