Former Purdue QBs Appleby, Etling reunite in SEC matchup

LSU quarterback Danny Etling (16) greets fans as he walks off the field after an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. LSU won 34-13. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
LSU quarterback Danny Etling (16) greets fans as he walks off the field after an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. LSU won 34-13. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Former Purdue quarterbacks Austin Appleby and Danny Etling will have a famous alum watching from afar Saturday.

New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees will tune it to see Appleby and Etling square off when No. 21 Florida plays at 16th-ranked LSU, a game that will help decide the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.

“I’ve actually been really happy for both of them,” Brees said Wednesday. “I had a chance to see both of them play at Purdue. By a twist of fate, they both end up at SEC schools, so, SEC, feel free to come to Purdue to find your quarterbacks. It’s just been great to see those guys succeed elsewhere and obviously with two really great programs. So I’ll be tuning into that one. That one will be entertaining.”

It’s certainly a unique situation, even with transfers becoming more and more common in college football.

Appleby and Etling were once teammates competing for the same job and became close friends. Both lost the starting gig in West Lafayette, Indiana, and ended up transferring to different schools in the same conference.

They’ll reunite Saturday about 700 miles south in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Who would have thought that?” Etling said. “It’s definitely crazy, and what’s one more crazy thing to add on top of our season, eh?”

Their journey to Saturday’s game, which was rescheduled and moved to LSU because of Hurricane Matthew in October, actually started three years ago.

Etling replaced Rob Henry as Purdue’s starting quarterback that season. Appleby supplanted Etling the following year, prompting Etling to transfer to LSU. Current Purdue starter David Blough beat out Appleby last season, sending Appleby to the bench and leaving him searching for a new place to play.

Etling sat out last year under NCAA transfer rules and replaced Brandon Harris in the starting lineup after two games. He’s 5-2 as the starter.

Appleby landed at Florida as a graduate transfer this past spring and has subbed for injured starter Luke Del Rio in three games, two because of a sprained knee and again last week against South Carolina because of a right shoulder injury that could sideline him for the rest of the season. Appleby is 2-1.

Appleby, Etling and Blough remain tight, communicating regularly in a group text. They mostly exchange pleasantries, a “good luck” here or a “congrats” there.

“It’s been pretty cool to keep that group together,” Appleby said.

Although Purdue hasn’t had much success in the last decade, the “The Cradle of Quarterbacks” has been a defining feature of the football program. Brees, Len Dawson, Gary Danielson, Jim Everett, Bob Griese, Kyle Orton and others played at Purdue.

“One thing about Purdue you’ll find is there’s a lot of pride in the quarterback position,” Etling said. “It kind of follows you wherever you go. And with that, there’s a lot of pressure put on the quarterbacks when you play there. So it’s a double-edged sword and it’s fun to be a part of that.”

Brees has met Appleby and Etling, watching them play in person in recent years. He also spent time with Appleby while they worked out at mechanics coach Tom House’s training facility in Los Angeles during an offseason.

Brees has texted with and talked to both quarterbacks periodically.

On Saturday, he’ll be pulling for them to play well — for themselves and for Purdue.

“He’s huge for that program,” Appleby said. “He’s our Tim (Tebow), I guess. He’s obviously a Hall of Famer. What he’s done, what he means to that university is huge in the way that he’s been around and knows how important it is to be around us kids and support our program has been really, really special.

“The way he does it is almost more than you would expect for a guy like him.”