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July 22, 2008It's not hard for Royce Adams to see the bright side of his demotion halfway through last season.
For one, it gave his classmate, David Pender, an opportunity to fill that starting role, with the once-raw cornerback playing so well that many now believe he's on the verge of a breakout season.
"I think me sitting on the bench was great for him," said Adams, who's likely to reclaim a starting spot opposite Pender this season, "because he got a chance to play and get more experience.
"He improved a lot, just in how he breaks on the ball and reads the quarterback. As far as from freshman year to last year, he really stepped his game up. That's what I like to see. I like to see the corner on the other side of the field playing really well."
Certainly, Pender has improved greatly from his rookie season, when he wasn't much more than a superbly gifted athlete forced to the field much earlier than expected.
But after two years, including the seven-game stint as a starter last season, the trial-by-fire experience is paying off, combining with his formidable athleticism - he was a nine-time high school track state champion in Georgia - to greatly enhance expectations.
"We're sure high on him," defensive coordinator Brock Spack said of the junior. "I am and I know a lot of people around here are.
"David is one of those rare kids, a track guy who can really run and will really hit you as a corner. Purdue fans may not have seen that yet in full sight, but we see it every day. David can hit people and that's exciting when you've got a guy that fast who can hit."
This season, the 6-foot-1, 180-plus-pound Pender ascends to Purdue's No. 1 cornerback, not that he was far off that assignment in 2007. After taking over the starting job, he often covered the opponents' primary receiving threat, whether that be Michigan State's Devin Thomas or Indiana's James Hardy.
"Coach (Lou) Anarumo has shown that he'll put his faith in me," Pender said of Purdue's secondary coach, "to go up against the best receivers on the team, because he thinks I have the ability to match up with them. That really is something that has motivated me, with Coach A showing me that he wants me to step up and become the leader of this secondary."
A starter beginning in Week 7, Pender finished last season with 44 tackles, six pass breakups and an interception. It was a far cry from his freshman year in '06, when he, along with the rest of Purdue's then-inexperienced secondary, struggled, to say the least. His first significant playing time came against Notre Dame, with then-Irish quarterback Brady Quinn toasting the Boilermakers for nearly 400 passing yards.
Pender says he learned a valuable lesson from that game and others back then.
"To be patient," the Folkston, Ga., native said. "Mainly, my weakness was that I needed to get a lot bigger and stronger. I've really taken that in and worked really hard in the weight room. I've gained a lot more weight and I think that's really going to help me out. It will help me become a better tackler and be a lot more physical.
"This year is going to be my breakthrough season, in my opinion. I have a lot of experience, I've been playing since my freshman year. I've had some good games and bad games, but I take those bad games and just try to build off those to become a better player. I'm going to try to use my experience as an advantage."
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