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April 23, 2009

Purdue brought former high school rivals together

Joey Elliott's only half-kidding when he credits teammate, classmate and fellow Evansville native Jared Zwilling for his own Purdue scholarship.

"I rode Jared's coat-tails to get a scholarship here," joked Elliott, the Boilermakers' starting quarterback coming out of spring practice. "He got offered as a sophomore and started going to games as a recruit. His family didn't always want to go to all the games, so I kind of thought I could get a free ticket, so I tagged along and went along for the ride."

That ride's brought the two former cross-town high school rivals to this point, the end of two football careers that have been inextricably linked for years.

The two players knew one another years before becoming teammates, as their fathers coached together at Castle High School. Elliott's Harrison High School and Zwilling's Central were yearly fixtures on the other's schedule.

"We played all four years," Zwilling said, "and I think he beat me all four years."

Zwilling, a defensive tackle recruit, attended a camp in West Lafayette before his junior season and fielded an unusually early scholarship offer. After that, he began making regular visits to Purdue, often with Elliott.

It was then that the two became friends and the latter got to know then-quarterbacks coach Blaine Bennett, perhaps helping his cause with the Boilermakers in the summer, when he too was offered after a camp appearance.

"Coming up with Jared, it brought me around Purdue a lot," Elliott said. "That's how I got to know Coach Bennett. And Coach (Mark) Hagen did a phenomenal job recruiting me. I knew it was where I wanted to go."

Elliott committed to Purdue on the same early July day, by sheer coincidence. Neither knew of the other's intentions when making their own pledges. It just worked out that way.

Months later, the two moved into Wiley Hall together in the fall of 2005 and have been roommates ever since.

Elliott admits that he almost transferred after his sophomore season, but credits his roommates - Zwilling and Jason Werner, among them - as part of the reason he elected to stay.

Now, he's glad he did, as he projects to be the Boilermakers' starting quarterback after backing up fellow Southern Indiana native Curtis Painter the past three seasons.

Appropriately enough, it'll be Zwilling snapping him the ball.

Prior to last season, Zwilling was moved to offense. Purdue had lots of defensive tackles, but center was a question mark. The then-junior played mostly guard in 2008, but now the center position looks to be all his heading into training camp.

"I think it helps that we've known each other," Zwilling said. "You have a feel for each other. You know what he's thinking."

There might not be anyone in a Boilermaker uniform who knows Purdue's new quarterback better than the man who'll be snapping for him.

"He does not like to lose at all. He hates losing," Zwilling said. "He'll do anything to win in anything, even if it's like racing to the remote control for the TV. He's just one of those gym-rat guys who plays hard all the time and always wants to learn more and just gives his all all the time."

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