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Gwinnett Grads: Grayson's Erwin starts all 13 games for bowl-bound

Boilermakers

Brandon Erwin's speed made him a candidate for early playing time at Purdue, but he wasn't sure how much action he would get this season as a true freshman.

He got a bunch.

The Grayson grad started all 13 games at free safety for the Boilermakers, who face Maryland in the Champs Bowl on Dec. 29. An injury forced Purdue's coaches to shuffle the secondary and sent Erwin into a starting role that he never gave up on the way to earning All-Big 10 Freshman honors from The Sporting News.

"I wanted to (play as a true freshman), I don't know anybody who doesn't," said Erwin, who has been clocked at better than 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

"I guess it's turned out for the best for me."

The speed of the college game is typically a big adjustment for high school players making the jump to the next level, but Erwin said that

wasn't overwhelming for him. Looking back, the 6-foot, 180-pounder feels like he has handled the faster pace well.

"I'm so used to (the speed) now that I can't really compare it (to high school)," Erwin said. "I have friends that say I look so much smaller (on the college field). Obviously it's a lot quicker now. But the guys don't hit too much harder. When you first get here, you think you'll get killed because guys will hit so hard. But the speed is the main difference."

Erwin enters the bowl game with 38 tackles, including 26 solo stops, and has tied a school record with four fumble recoveries. He also tied a school single-game record with two fumble recoveries against Iowa in a game where he also made a season-high 10 tackles.

His team-high four fumble recoveries have helped Purdue to 17 total fumble recoveries, fourth-best nationally. The Boilermakers have forced 23 fumbles, the second-most in school history, and the turnovers have played an important part in their 8-5 season that continues with a bowl game.

"It's definitely weird because you always watch bowl games and now you'll be playing in one," Erwin said. "And it's Maryland, too, and they recruited me pretty heavily. So it should be interesting. It came down to Maryland and Arkansas as my No. 2 behind Purdue."

The bowl-game atmosphere should be fun, not nearly as tough to play as some places Purdue went this season like a handful of Big 10 road games and a trip to Notre Dame. Erwin admits he made a few mistakes during his rookie season, but he hopes to learn from it.

"It's been fun," he said. "I wish I could have done a lot better. But I'll just take the experience I got this year into a bowl game and into next year."

BASKETBALL

Shokpeka makes

college debut

Berkmar grad Patrick Shokpeka had to wait to get his college basketball career started, but his long-awaited debut was a very good one.

The 6-foot-1 freshman guard had 16 points on 7 of 8 shooting in limited action as his Miles Community College (Mont.) team defeated Little Big Horn College 110-70 on Wednesday. He also had four rebounds and two assists.

It was the 13th game of the season for 9-4 Miles, but Shokpeka's first action. He was held out initially for academic reasons, but was cleared to play recently by the National Junior College Athletic Association.

Kubik Wright scores

career high

Dani Kubik Wright, a Collins Hill grad, scored a career-high 27 points with six rebounds on Wednesday night as Brigham Young defeated California-Riverside 66-57 in women's basketball.

The 6-foot-3 post made 11 of 15 field goals (including her only 3-point attempt) and converted 4 of 4 free throws. She now averages 10.9 points, second on the team, and a team-best 6.4 rebounds per game. She also makes a BYU-best 62.8 percent of her field goals.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting the achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com or via fax to 770-339-8081.