September 23, 2009
Valentin ready to return
After fumbling in his final two attempts, which followed a highlight reel touchdown scamper, Aaron Valentin's ready to return to his duties as Purdue's primary punt return man.
The senior was back with the first unit Tuesday, as Coach Danny Hope had said he would be earlier in the day, and will likely be on the field for Notre Dame's first punt Saturday.
"I told you I didn't think I had lost my job," Valentin said after practice. "I'm just catching a lot of punts this week, making sure I'm focusing on that during practice. I'll make sure I catch everything and not let anything touch the floor."
That wasn't the case against Northern Illinois Saturday, when Valentin's back-to-back first-half fumbles led to seven Husky points and his benching. His demotion, though - Waynelle Gravesande fielded two second-half punts - appears only temporary, and with good reason, provided he hold onto the ball.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder leads the Big Ten in yards per return, averaging 12.7 on seven attempts; he's one of only two in the conference averaging more than 12, and one of three who are better than seven yards a game.
For that reason, Hope said Tuesday that Valentin, who ranks as the league's seventh-best kick return man with a 21.8 average, is still his No. 1 guy.
"Still believe in him," the first-year coach said.
Valentin's first punt return Saturday was one of beauty. After fielding the ball with a nice over-the-shoulder grab headed to the right sideline, he danced his way back to the left, eluding a couple would-be tackles. Along the way, he picked up solid blocks from Jaycen Taylor and Cortez Smith, among others.
"I've seen it a couple times," Valentin said of the 62-yard return, Purdue's first for a TD since 2003. "But I've tried not to watch TV too much this week because I was just so disappointed in our loss."
Following the TD, Valentin's day went mostly downhill. On his next return attempt, Valentin called for a fair catch, but bobbled the ball, then let it hit the field. He claims to have gathered it back in, and actually was the one who handed it to an official, but the referee thought otherwise.
He got another opportunity minutes later, when he raced toward a low-line drive punt, and had it bounce off his shoulders to the Huskies. They converted that second drop into seven points, helping them to a 21-7 halftime lead.
"I now I got pulled for a reason," he said. "and I was aware of that so I wasn't upset about it or anything. But I'm glad to be back there, trying to make stuff happen."
Valentin says his biggest hurdle this week, as he prepares to resume his duties, isn't the physical task of catching the ball, but the mental task of getting over the drops.
"I'm kind of antsy," he said, 'but I've just got to stay calm. If I get back there I know that I could do what I did last time. On the second one, after fumbling the first one, I was like 'I've got to do something now,' and I just took my eyes off it and tried to run before I got it. I've just got to stay calm and keep my focus."
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