Whether a group text message still exists between former Purdue quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby and current Purdue quarterback David Blough is up for debate.
Etling claims the group text chain is lost in Apple’s iCloud, gone forever, irretrievable.
“No one can really find the messages and what they say,” LSU’s starting quarterback said, a smirk sweeping across his face.
Appleby disagrees. In fact, the trio has used the group text chain as recently as this season to wish each other luck.
“We all kind of keep in touch and support each other," said Appleby, Florida's starting quarterback. "It’s been pretty cool to keep that group together.”
That’s just like Etling to play it coy, to fib about a personal matter, keeping things buttoned-up and private. It keeps with his stoic and, at times, unemotional personality.
It’s something, some might say, that cost him his job as Purdue’s starting quarterback in 2014. Appleby replaced him during that season and lasted 10 starts at Purdue before losing his job to Blough. Like Etling, he then transferred to an SEC program.
Their new teams meet Saturday in Tiger Stadium when No. 16 LSU hosts No. 21 Florida in a game with much more on the line than bragging rights for two players who used to fight for the same job.
The Gators (7-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) can win the SEC East and advance to the championship game with a victory in Baton Rouge. The Tigers (6-3, 4-2) can keep their hopes alive for a Sugar Bowl invitation and further improve the chances that their interim coach land the full-time job.
They’re both aware of these facts.
“We know what’s at stake,” Appleby told reporters earlier this week in Gainesville, Florida. “We want to go back to Atlanta. That’s why you come to Florida — you want to play for championships.”
How these two got here — both Midwestern natives who battled at Purdue in 2013 and 2014 — is quite a tale. The fact that they’re now meeting as starting quarterbacks for top-25 ranked SEC teams is just, well, bizarre.
“It’s obviously been a crazy year,” Etling said. “What’s one more coincidence to happen?”
Etling, then a true freshman, and Appleby, then a redshirt freshman, roomed together on road trips at Purdue in 2013. Five games into that year, Etling replaced struggling senior Rob Henry in a loss to Northern Illinois. The home crowd roared when coach Darrell Hazell inserted Etling into that game, and Purdue’s release recapping the game called it “the start of the Etling era.”
A year and 12 starts later, Appleby replaced Etling on the final drive of a 24-10 loss to Iowa. Etling never threw a pass again the rest of the season, even being surpassed by former third- and fourth-string quarterbacks.
The ordeal appeared to drive a wedge between Hazell and then-Purdue offensive coordinator John Shoop.
“I think that the head coach kind of wanted a QB to be a rah rah guy, and that’s not Danny,” said one person familiar with the situation who wished to remain anonymous.
Shoop, contacted earlier this season, doesn’t hide the fact that he supported Etling.
“If you want to call Darrel Hazel, you can speak to him about it,” Shoop said curtly when asked why Etling was benched, “but from where I sit, Dan Etling … there’s not a bigger fan of Dan Etling in the world than me. I’ll leave it at that.”
None of the four people involved in the matter — Hazell, Shoop, Appleyby and, of course, Etling — remain at Purdue.
Hazell fired Shoop at the end of the next season in 2015, about two months before Appleby transferred. The school fired Hazell after the Boilermakers’ sixth game this season. He went 9-33 in less than four full seasons with the program.
Etling left before all of them, transferring after spring practice in 2015.
“I think Danny never wanted to leave,” said Steve Englehart, the current head coach at Florida Tech and a mentor and personal QB coach to Etling. "He never wanted to admit that’s what he wanted to do to me. I don’t know if a part of him felt like he failed at Purdue a little bit because he didn’t keep the job and continue on with them.”
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Etling and Appleby, meanwhile, have remained friends.
“We’re not mortal enemies,” Appleby said this week.
Appleby started 10 straight games after taking over for Etling. Blough replaced him four games into the 2015 season. Appleby arrived at Florida in the spring as a graduate transfer, giving him immediate eligibility, and he’s starting now after the Gators’ top QB, Luke Del Rio, is out with an injury.
“Whenever he does well, that’s good for where we were and shows we had a lot of talent in that room,” Etling said, a subtle jab, maybe, at Hazell. “I think we’re good fans of each other and wish each other the best of luck.”
They’re both from a school known for its quarterbacks. Purdue is referred to as the “Cradle of Quarterbacks.” An entire page on the school’s website is devoted to the topic.
Fifteen former Purdue QBs have played in the NFL, accumulating more starts and throwing for more yards than those from any other school. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees joined Len Dawson and Bob Griese to give the Boilermakers three Super Bowl-winning former QBs. That’s tied with Alabama for the most of any school.
Brees, in fact, worked with Appleby a couple of years ago in Los Angeles, and they've stayed in touch.
"I got his number," Appleby said. "We texted and he called me and offered me some support every now and then."
Brees saw Appleby and Etling both play at least one game at Purdue, he said.
"Twist of fate that they end up at SEC schools," Brees said earlier this week. "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 in to that one."
Danny Etling and Austin Appleby went 4-19 as starters at Purdue.