Sindelar plays backup role in spring game after strong start
By MICHAEL MAROT
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar stands on the practice field, reading the defense as he always does.
Only this time, he's not behind center, not chatting with coach Jeff Brohm, not even wearing a helmet. Instead, the Boilermakers' projected starter wears street clothes with a compression sleeve over his hyperextended left knee, content with why the coaches plan to hold him out of Saturday's annual spring game.
He's already shown them everything they need to see.
"Nothing's wrong with it at all, we're already back to being able to do everything," Sindelar said. "Knowing that I could practice and I've already shown them what they needed to see kind of makes me feel good they have that kind of faith in me. It's an interesting situation."
It's been an interesting career, too.
After enrolling at Purdue in January 2016, Sindelar redshirted. After spending most of the next two seasons as a backup, Sindelar finally got his chance when David Blough dislocated his right ankle in November 2017 - only to subsequently tear the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Sindelar played the final 3+ games that season on the bad knee, making the injury look non-existent as he rallied the Boilermakers to their first postseason bid in four years and their first bowl win six years. He was even named offensive MVP of the Foster Farms Bowl after throwing for 396 yards and four touchdowns including the game winner with less than two minutes to go.
Since then, nothing has gone smoothly.
He missed all of last spring while recovering from knee surgery before returning for summer camp to battle Blough for the starting job. On Day 2, he started feeling soreness in the knee. Trainers diagnosed it as tendinitis, a condition he'd have to play through.
"It was kind of just annoying because the tendinitis kind of changes your playing style," Sindelar said. "I had to basically not roll out any more or run for first downs, I tried to throw it every time because I knew if I tried to run, it would flare up and prevent me from basically being able to play at a high level."
Somehow, Kentucky's 2015 Mr. Football Award winner still managed to keep the starting job - for two games.
Blough took over after Sindelar threw three first-half interceptions in a season-opening loss to Northwestern. The next week, Blough stepped in again when Sindelar injured his oblique muscle in a loss to Eastern Michigan.
Sindelar never took another snap in 2018 as Blough led the Boilermakers back to the postseason.
Then, just when it seemed everything was back on track, 290-pound left tackle Grant Hermanns inadvertently stepped on Sindelar's left foot during practice. Sindelar tried to push off the ground to get away but instead tweaked the surgically-repaired knee.
While Sindelar insists he could play now, Brohm and his staff want Sindelar to get completely healthy, knowing full well what they have in the strong-armed 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior.
So instead, Sindelar spent the final week of spring practice talking to recruits, working with coaches and helping backup Jack Plummer work with the starting offense for the second straight April.
"I definitely feel more comfortable with the ones this year, I feel like I belong," Plummer said. "I've learned a lot from Elijah just by watching him, the throws he makes, the preparation he goes through, things like that."
But perhaps the most telling part of Sindelar's evolution is how he's learned to deal with life's constant twists and turns.
He returns this year with a better understanding of what Brohm wants and when Brohm wants him to take chances.
The knee, he hopes, will allow him to be more mobile.
And regardless of what happens next, Sindelar intends to become the undisputed leader in the locker room.
"David and I were really close throughout the last two seasons and we talked all the time, so he's given me advice through the whole time," Sindelar said. "So when he left, it was more like he said this is my team and it's my chance to show what I can do."
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Updated April 5, 2019