BATON ROUGE – The Big Ten-SEC Challenge in football is on, sort of.
On Saturday, two former Purdue quarterbacks will start for Southeastern Conference teams in SEC matchups for likely the first time – junior Danny Etling of Terre Haute, Indiana, for LSU at Auburn and senior Austin Appleby of North Canton, Ohio, for Florida at Tennessee.
How did this happen?
Cam the offensive coordinator and Pete the Cop had a lot to do with it. So did Purdue’s record, which was 1-11 and 0-8 in the Big Ten in 2013, 3-9 and 1-7 in 2014 and 2-10 and 1-7 in 2015.
Etling started at Purdue in 2013 and ’14 before Appleby replaced him after five games in 2014. Then Appleby lost his job in 2015 to freshman David Blough, who is the starter now for the 1-1 Boilermakers, who host Nevada on Saturday.
Etling is from Terre Haute, Indiana, and went to Terre Haute South Vigo High School, where LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was a two-sport superstar and went on to Indiana to play quarterback for Lee Corso and guard for Bobby Knight and later was Indiana’s head coach.
Cameron, then the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, returned to Terre Haute South Vigo in 2010 to speak and have his No. 10 basketball jersey retired. Etling, then a sophomore in high school, was his host.
“That’s when I first saw him,” Etling said this week. “My job was to show him around the campus.”
Cameron already knew the campus, so Etling made a lasting impression in another way. Cameron was visiting with a group of people on this night and explaining how complicated some of the plays were that he used to run with Drew Brees (another Purdue quarterback who has migrated south) when Cameron was the San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator and had Brees early in his career. He rattled off a verbiage- number-filled play that Brees used to call, and someone said, “What? Say that again.”
And Etling recited it back word for word. Cameron just looked at him and was taken aback by this 10th grader who would become a rare three-year starting quarterback at his high school.
Fast forward four years when Etling had decided to transfer from Purdue to either Arkansas or LSU, and the Cameron connection came through for LSU as Etling signed with the Tigers in the summer of 2015 before sitting out last season according to NCAA rules.
“I think it helped me kind of trust his intentions,” Etling said.
“Cam was saying they apparently knew each other – were acquaintances,” LSU coach Les Miles said on the SEC teleconference Wednesday. “Cam certainly felt like he was a guy that was ready to compete at the highest level. We watched his Purdue tape, and you could recognize that he could throw the football and you could recognize that he was handling all the experiences and situations that his team was going through.”
The losses and the 42 sacks in 13 games, that is.
“Cam certainly felt like he was a guy that was ready to compete at the highest level,” Miles said. “And it absolutely fed us, and so we were very pleased and certainly more so now.”
Florida coach Jim McElwain will be eating from the Purdue quarterback training table as well Saturday. His starting quarterback, sophomore Luke Del Rio, suffered a knee sprain in the win over North Texas Saturday and is expected to be out for two to three weeks. LSU plays at Florida two weeks from Saturday. If Del Rio is not back in time, or even if he is and Appleby does well, the two Purdue products could both start.
“That’s kind of cool,” McElwain said of the Purdue pair on the SEC teleconference.
McElwain did not have a previous history with Appleby as Cameron had with Etling, but if coaches do anything in recruiting, scouting or hiring, it is networking.
“Kind of through the grapevine,” McElwain said. “Just kind of a side note here, his dad played at Louisville. He was Pete the Cop’s roommate at Louisville.”
“Pete the Cop” is Pete McCartney, a former Louisville left tackle who was a teammate and roommate of Appleby’s father Mike Appleby, a quarterback turned defensive back at Louisville in the early 1980s. McCartney later became a policeman in Louisville and got the security detail for the Louisville football coaches on game day. McElwain was a Louisville receivers coach from 2000-02 and got to know McCartney. Next thing you know, Appleby is at Florida.
“Pete the Cop was our security guy when I was at Louisville,” McElwain said. “And we obviously watched film of him (the quarterback, not the cop). He was a good player, did a lot of good things, and we kind of pursued it from there. For whatever it’s worth, that’s Pete the Cop’s deal.”
Funny thing, though, had Appleby decided to transfer before Etling, he might be at LSU. The elder Appleby is from Elyria, Ohio, which is Miles' hometown, and went to Elyria High School, which is Miles’ alma mater.
“I was recruited by Michigan coming out of high school,” Appleby said. “Les was a graduate assistant at Michigan at the time (1980-81).”
Appleby, meanwhile, will be trying to outfox Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop on Saturday. Shoop's brother is John Shoop, an NFL coaching veteran who was Purdue's offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach from 2013-15 and coached both Appleby and Etling.
And that’s how Danny Etling and Austin Appleby ended up at LSU and Florida, respectively, by way of Terre Haute, Indiana, and North Canton, Ohio.
You could look it up.
“It’s an unusual set of circumstances certainly,” Miles said. “And we’re kind of glad that we have our Purdue guy.”
So is McElwain.
See you on October 8.
SEC POLL: 1. Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC). 2. 2. Texas A&M (3-0, 1-0). 3. Arkansas (3-0, 0-0). 4. Florida (3-0, 1-0). 5. Tennessee (3-0, 0-0). 6. Georgia (3-0, 1-0). 7. Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1). 8. LSU (2-1, 1-0). 9. Auburn (1-2, 0-1). 10. Mississippi State (1-2, 1-1). 11. South Carolina (2-1, 1-1). 12. Missouri (1-2, 0-1). 13. Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1). 14. Kentucky (1-2, 0-1).
SATURDAY SEC GAMES: Kent State (1-2) at No. 1 Alabama, 11 a.m., SEC Network; No. 11 Georgia at No. 21 Ole Miss, 11 a.m., ESPN; Mississippi State at Massachusetts, 2:30 p.m., ESPN3; No. 16 Florida at No. 12 Tennessee, 2:30 p.m., CBS; Delaware State (0-2) at Missouri, 3 p.m., SEC Network; Vanderbilt at Western Kentucky (2-1), 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network; No. 17 LSU at Auburn, 5 p.m., ESPN; South Carolina at Kentucky, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network; No. 18 Arkansas vs. No. 13 Texas A&M, 8 p.m., ESPN.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “What? Is somebody starting Gary Danielson? Is that what we’re doing?”
---Florida coach Jim McElwain when told that two Purdue quarterbacks will be starting SEC games Saturday. Danielson played quarterback at Purdue in the early 1970s and is now a television analyst at CBS and will be doing the Florida-Tennessee game on Saturday.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK … CONTINUED : “But, no, that’s kind of cool. So they (LSU Tigers) are doing the same thing, huh? That’s really good trivia. I live useless information. So I’m going to log that one. Really what makes today best is the fact that it’s Earth, Wind & Fire’s 21st of September today (Opening line from “September” is “Do you remember the 21st night of September?”) So I’ve been kind of singing that song all day. But let me put some thought into that Purdue thing. That’s pretty cool.”
---Florida coach Jim McElwain.