SOUTH BEND | You can tell guys are ready to play Division I football. They're more focused than impressed. They'll play on the moon and think nothing of it.
Saturday afternoon, Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short (East Chicago), free safety Albert Evans (Portage) and offensive tackle Dennis Kelly (Marian Catholic) ventured into hallowed Notre Dame Stadium for their season opener against the Irish.
Notre Dame won 23-12, and the three Region players went about their business without distraction.
"Everybody's kinda new on the defense. We still need to fill our gaps, come together as one and communicate better in loud stadiums like this," Short said. "Once we do, we'll be a very good defense.
"I hope I contributed and made a statement out there to show I'm capable of doing what I did last year."
The 6-foot-3, 305-pound sophomore certainly made his presence felt. After Evans made a saving tackle on Cierre Wood's 15-yard run to the Irish 47, Short broke through to smother Wood for a 5-yard loss.
Short later sacked Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist in the game's final minutes.
"I approach all games the same," Short added. "Before the game, I just went out and touched the field. It's a nice little field. It's kinda like Oregon with the little dome. Other than the game, I didn't think about Notre Dame Stadium. I was thinking of the job I had to do.
"I live only two hours away. I watched (Notre Dame) on TV when I was young. I liked them but now that I'm playing against 'em, all that goes out the window."
Evans also wasn't intimidated by Notre Dame's history and rich football tradition. It was like a day at the beach for him, but with hitting.
Early in the third quarter, he laid the wood to Wood after a short reception at the Purdue 5. Later, he made a crunching stop of Michael Floyd, causing the wide receiver to fumble.
"This was my first time playing as much as I did, and it was great to see our (defensive backs) grow up from the first quarter to the fourth quarter," Evans said. "A break here or there and maybe we win the game. It showed that even though we've young young DBs, we give it everything we got.
"My first two seasons, I was really nervous. I was looking, looking, looking at my playbook at the hotel. But now I realize the man across from you is human, and I'm being put out here, because the coach believes I can make the plays."
Dennis Kelly, a 6-8, 300-pound junior, did his part to help Purdue quarterback Robert Marve complete 31-of-42 passes for 220 yards.
The four sacks and two picks can't be overlooked, however.
"Missed communication. Missed assignments. First game. We'll learn from that," Kelly said. "Marve showed he can keep plays alive, so we have to continue blocking as he moves side to side on the field.
"He works for what he gets, and we'll do a better job helping him the rest of the season."