CHICAGO — Before Jeff Brohm climbed the podium for Big Ten media days, he took his place on the mound.
Saturday evening, the coach was invited to throw out the first pitch at the Chicago Cubs game. Give him credit. He did go all the way to the rubber. But the throw sailed juuusssst a bit high and inside.
“The best way to sum it up is that it was a completion,” Brohm joked.
Throwing out the first pitch was an honor, none-the-less. But in an alternate reality, Brohm would have done more than just throw out a first pitch.
The second-year Purdue coach was a fourth-round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians and played parts of two seasons in the minors in 1990 and '91. But his passion was always for the pigskin.
“If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have tried baseball,” Brohm said. “Growing up, I loved football and I loved playing quarterback with the ball always in your hands. Baseball, I happened to be good at. But it wasn’t an exciting sport. It was kind of boring. It didn’t really rev me up.”
During his two years of minor league baseball, Brohm was on the same team with players who went onto noteworthy careers, including Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome. Meanwhile, Brohm became the staring quarterback at Louisville and gave up baseball. He bounced around the NFL for seven years and played one year in the XFL before turning to coaching.
If Brohm had it to do over? He’d have picked baseball.
“You can play this game when you’re 40,” Brohm said. “You can never get truly injured. You can make a lot of money. I didn’t really factor all that in. I loved football. If I knew all that, I would have factored all that in and would have tried it.”
Purdue opens the season with a big challenge. Or really, a B1G challenge.
The Boilers host Northwestern in the Big Ten West Division showdown. While many of the other conference teams will be opening up against, shall we say, warm-up opponents, Brohm said he’s embracing the early test.
“I do like playing a tough opponent the first game,” Brohm said. “I think last year we played a Louisville opponent that was heavily favored against us. We found a way to keep it close coming in at halftime with the lead. And even though we didn't win, we gained a lot from that loss, and it helped us for the next couple of weeks for sure.”
Purdue created a lot of positive momentum over the second half of the season. The Boilers won four of their final five games, including a thrilling last-second win in the Foster Farms Bowl. Brohm said momentum would “skyrocket” if Purdue can beat the Wildcats.
Win or lose, a strong start to the season will be critical for the Boilers. Even though Purdue starts the season with four home games, Phil Steele, a highly respected college sports prognosticator, ranked Purdue’s schedule second-toughest in college football.
“There is no warm-up game,” quarterback Elijah Sindelar said. “This is legit. It’s going to be a tough game. Northwestern is really good. I like that because it sets the tone for the season right away.”
Running backs still working back
Several Purdue running backs went under the knife this offseason. Junior Tario Fuller, who was leading the team in rushing through three weeks, underwent numerous ankle surgeries. But Brohm expects him to be ready for action when camp opens Aug. 1.
Richie Worship, meanwhile, is still recovering from ACL surgery. Brohm said he won’t be ready for the start of camp.
Out of chances
Senior safety/linebacker T.J. Jallow will not be with Purdue this season due to academic eligibility issues.
Jallow joined Purdue in 2017 after playing junior college football at East Mississippi Community College, which was featured on the Netflix series “Last Chance U.” The hype continued when ESPN rated Jallow as a four-star prospect and when he made a number of huge hits in practice.
However, Jallow never lived up to that billing. He lost his starting job a few games into last year and finished with just 16 tackles. Purdue was working with Jallow at linebacker in spring ball in an attempt to get him closer to the line of scrimmage. But those plans will have to change.
Brohm developed a reputation for his fun, trick plays. He said this offseason he watched a cut-up with 220 NFL trick plays. Considering legalized sports gambling is now expanded, the coach was asked for a realistic over/under trick play total.
“I would like to think we could hit over 50,” Brohm said said. “Each week is different. If they’re working, we’ll call them. If they’re not, we won't dialed them up as much.”