Danny Etling’s phone lit up Monday night. LSU’s starting quarterback looked down and it was Austin Appleby.
Etling and Appleby are good friends. Appleby arrived at Purdue in 2012 and Etling followed a year later. It was in 2013 when the two began battling for playing time at Purdue. This Saturday they’ll battle once again.
Etling won out initially. When senior Rob Henry was pulled during a week five loss to Northern Illinois it was the true freshman Etling, not redshirt freshman Appleby that was started the last seven games. Etling started slow in 2014 (55% completion percentage, six touchdowns, five interceptions) and was replaced by Appleby, who started the final seven games of that season. Etling transferred after the season.
“We’re not mortal enemies,” Appleby joked on Monday. “Probably send him a text here tonight early in the week just to wish him luck, wish him the best. You know, he’s done the same for me all season.
Appleby and Etling maintain a group text that includes current Purdue quarterback David Blough, who is the quarterback that replaced Appleby as the starter when Appleby began 2015 off slower than expected.
“Our whole little Purdue quarterback group text that goes on. You know, whoever we’re playing…’good luck against Arkansas, good luck against South Carolina, good luck against Northwestern.’ We all kind of keep in touch and support each other,” Appleby said. “It’s been pretty cool to keep that group together.”
It’s an interesting dynamic, for sure. Two former Big 10 quarterbacks and teammates starting for two of the Southeastern Conference’s perennial powerhouse programs with everything on the line Saturday night in Baton Rouge.
“I think the guy that evaluated them did a good job,” LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron told local reporters. “Whoever recruited both those men did a good job. It’s an unusual situation, but we are happy to have Danny. And I know Coach McElwain is happy to have Austin.”
Blough and Etling aren’t the only current/former Purdue quarterbacks that Appleby is friendly with. A couple of years ago Appleby had the chance to work out with renowned pitching/quarterback coach Tom House. Drew Brees and Tim Tebow just happened to be there as well.
“I had a chance to spend a day out with him. I got his number, we texted and he called me and offered me some support every now and then,” Appleby said of his relationship with Brees. “He’s huge for that program. He’s our Tim I guess.”
There is a lot of pride at Purdue in the quarterback room. Purdue touts its program as the “Cradle of Quarterbacks” that has a fraternity of Drew Brees, Bob Griese, Gary Danielson, Kyle Orton, Curtis Painter, Jim Everett and Len Dawson to name a few. That tradition is something that initially drew both Etling and Appleby to the school.
“One thing about Purdue you’ll find is there’s a lot of pride in the quarterback position just because it’s the cradle of quarterbacks,” Etling told reporters. “Even if you leave, they still kind of talk about the cradle of quarterbacks. It kind of follows you wherever you go. With that, there’s a lot of pressure put on the quarterbacks when you play there. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s fun to be a part of that group of quarterbacks.”
The pressure they faced playing at Purdue may pale in comparison to what they will face on Saturday night, especially for Appleby. Etling and the Tigers will hold senior day ceremonies in front of a raucous crowd. Appleby admitted having issues with crowd noise in his two starts previous to last Saturday in Knoxville and Nashville. With a capacity of 102,321 Tiger Stadium won’t be quiet, or very friendly to the Gators’ starter but he won’t use that as an excuse.
“It’s an excuse. We know how to communicate. We’ve got to communicate. It’s our job to communicate. Coach Mac every single day goes, ‘Hey guys – ’ and we all say it after him like it’s an elementary school ‘Communicate, communicate, communicate.’ We do it over and over and over again.”
As for their other form of communication, the group text has been oddly quiet this week but the former teammates will meet again face-to-face on the field this Saturday and will share a moment after the last seconds tick off the clock and the Boilermaker Bowl is complete.