Boilermaker specialists a close bunch

Purdue's specialists are a close, both on and off the field.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – When the Boilermakers took to the practice field on Saturday afternoon, the offense and defense took the sidelines and special teams took center stage.

Coach Darrell Hazell started the tradition of holding a specialists scrimmage, splitting the special teams units into two teams and keeping score. It's part of the detailed emphasis Purdue is putting on special teams. For the specialists, it's an important day.

"People are jawing back and forth at us compared to people jawing at each other and we're standing on the sidelines," junior long snapper Jesse Schmidt said.

Several of Purdue's special teams roles have yet to be filled. Paul Griggs and Sam McCartney are battling to be the Boilermakers' place kicker, while Thomas Meadows and Cody Webster are working for the punting job.

The specialist scrimmage brought those competitions to the forefront. Each kicker and punter looked to show consistency in their roles.

"It's 100 percent production," said Griggs, a sophomore who booted the game-winning field goal against Iowa last season. "The coaches have made that very clear from the beginning. It's going to play itself out in the last few days of camp."

While the position battles continue on the field, the specialists have their share of fun off the field. It's a tight group that enjoys spending time together.

The group turned an office in the Mollenkopf Center into the "Specialists Foxhole," which is used for film study and some fun, too.

"We take it very seriously," Griggs said of the Foxhole. "That's where we're in watching out film and getting better off the field."

But with their work done for the week, the specialists spent their Friday night playing NFL Blitz on Nintendo 64 and watching "A Few Good Men."

"We make sure to always have a good time and keep it loose," Schmidt said, "because specialists need to be loose."

The specialists also have another competition brewing—a mustache-growing battle. Schmidt holds the edge over his counterparts, even trimming it before the scrimmage. It's not quite as important as their actual position battles, but they still take it seriously.

"I can't really grow one, but I tried my best," sophomore kicker Sam McCartney said. "It's a tradition that's been passed down through the ranks. I'm trying to do my part."

Both on the field and in the Foxhole, the Purdue specialists are a tight-knit bunch.

"We have fun, because we're a unique group," said Webster, the lone senior of the group. "But we also know when it's time to work."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats, and currently covers the Purdue Boilermakers. A Chicago native, he resides in West Lafayette.
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