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Purdue University

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Associated Press
Purdue’s Bruce Gaston (90) had 5 1/2 tackles for loss last season and is being looked upon to improve this season.

Boilers need tackle to step up his play

– Purdue senior defensive tackle Bruce Gaston hates wearing the club-like wrap protecting his left thumb from further injury.

But he sure loves using it.

“I might keep it,” the senior jokingly said after the Boilermakers’ scrimmage last Saturday – his first live play since surgery on the thumb after the end of last season.

Gaston’s road back took most of the spring, although he admitted he wasn’t quite sure what happened to his thumb. The 303-pound lineman participated in individual and one-on-one drills before returning last week and will play in Saturday’s spring game.

Other than the two feet of tape wrapped around his left hand, Gaston said he feels fine.

“It’s not really where I want to be yet, obviously, with the hand,” he said. “I wanted to be out there, honestly, from Day One. They looked like they were having too much fun without me. I see them doing one-on-one, pass rush, all that. It looked like too much fun.

“I had to get out there.”

And he did, getting a sack and making a few plays in the backfield unofficially during the scrimmage. Gaston’s size makes him a force inside, and he will be leaned upon this season to provide leadership and production.

The surgery, a minor procedure, will let him do that with no discomfort.

“It’s good to know when the fall comes around, I won’t have this on, nothing wrong with me and I’ll be good to go,” he said. “I could have opted not to go with it, but it was in my benefit to do it. That way, I could assure it wouldn’t aggravate me in the fall. It wasn’t major at all: in-and-out.”

Gaston smiled big, chuckled plenty and spoke excitedly as he talked about how fun it was to make full contact again. Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said he was pleased with how well Gaston got off the ball and asserted himself despite it being his first live play of the spring.

“He’s a big presence inside for us,” Hazell said. “The more and more he can use that hand, the more comfortable he’ll be.”

The Boilermakers will rely on Gaston to turn a middling Big Ten defense into an upper-tier unit. Purdue was ninth in the conference in rushing yards allowed per game. The senior finished tied for 12th on the team in tackles last season and had 5 1/2 tackles for loss.

Hazell said Gaston draws the offensive line’s attentions and allows ends and linebackers more room to maneuver. Even while operating in that support role, Gaston’s size helps him disrupt plays on his own.

Senior quarterback Rob Henry dealt with the tackle more than once during the scrimmage, as did most of the interior offensive unit.

“Somebody with that experience, somebody with that talent is a huge difference for our team,” Henry said. “There’s a big difference when Bruce is in there.”