Purdue: Gaston Leading the Fight to Finish

Senior defensive lineman Bruce Gaston has dealt with a lot of adversity since picking Purdue over multiple BCS offers, including Wisconsin, but the leader of the Boilermakers' defense is pushing his teammates to finally finish the fights this season.

MADISON - If his first opportunity to address the national and conference media at Big Ten Media Days in late July, first year coach Darrell Hazell wasn't going to come in walking on eggshells.

A prodigy of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, Hazell spent seven seasons in Columbus, the final six as the assistant head coach, and watched the Buckeyes win five conference titles.

So after watching his new program from afar, Hazell didn't mince his words when he said he wanted to take Purdue from a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team to a school that's known nationally.

"That's what we are all shooting for," Hazell said.

A couple rooms away, senior defensive lineman Bruce Gaston didn't hear the comments coming from the main ballroom. He didn't need to, considering he had heard those same words from the time Hazell arrived. And while many see those as big words for a program that hasn't won a conference championship since 2000, Gaston believes it's the right message, especially since Hazell is expecting his players to have the mentality of finishing what they started.

"This year is more about finishing the fight," said Gaston, who will one of the key players to watch when Purdue takes on No.24 Wisconsin at Camp Randall this Saturday in both team's conference opener. "Eventually we have to finish the fight. One thing we learned from last year was we could start a fight and fight the battles, but we couldn't finish. The new coaching staff has put it in our minds that we are all on the same level."

With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible last season for postseason play, the Boilermakers viewed last season's home games against the Badgers as a golden opportunity to take control of the handicapped division.

Instead of having the inside route to Indianapolis, their own fans started streaming for the exits at halftime, not wanting to deal with the downpour or the sloppy performance put on by the Boilermakers in a 38-14 loss.

"Definitely a hard day and a salty taste in our mouth," said Gaston. "It's a week where we look back on and say we probably didn't train like we should have."

The blowout to Wisconsin was the second of a string of five straight conference losses, led to Danny Hope's dismissal after four seasons and Hazell's renaissance, demanding more from his players and creating an environment heavy on professionalism.

That in turn has made the players more demanding of one another, especially Gaston, who turned down so-called bigger opportunity to come to Purdue.

Gaston was a three-star recruit and the No.36 defensive tackle in the country in the 2009 recruiting class out of Chicago St. Rita. He got offers and took visits to Boston College, Michigan State and Wisconsin and had an offer from Notre Dame, but Gaston chose the Boilermakers for always being unique.

"Purdue was always different with the coaches that recruited me," said Gaston. "Unfortunately there have been some coaching changes during my career here, but the Purdue that I picked is great for me. They have a great history of defensive linemen and that was another thing that really impressed me. Ultimately I just feel comfortable here. Some people like to move on, but I couldn't be happier."

After finishing with 28 total tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss, last season, Gaston has already expanded his game through three games. His 13 tackles are tied for fifth on the team while his 3.5 tackles for loss are second and his two sacks are tied for first.

Saturday will be his 17th straight start and 36th for his career, the second most on the team.

Gaston credits Hazell for helping expand player's abilities, setting the tone in the weight room and on the field, and wanting the upperclassmen to conduct them self in the professional matter Hazell's new staff demands.

"It's coach's mentality," said Gaston. "It's his words of wisdom. For coach really not truly knowing us for that long, he's a really great judge of character and puts a lot of faith in his players. He wants me to step up and be even more of a leader, have more of a role with the team, and that's what I am going to do.

"He tells us, ‘This is what we can do, so why not become what you can do?' That helps us become better football players. If we are the most demanding of ourselves, that's going to lead us to finishing those battles."

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