Embracing the challenge: Culver’s Budzinski takes walk-on role at Purdue

CULVER — Micah Budzinski isn’t one to back away from a challenge.
When the Culver Community football star first decided he wanted to play for Division I Purdue, it wasn’t because he was being offered a scholarship — as a recently accepted walk-on with the team, he’ll have to pay the full freight himself. And while Budzinski says he loves football, the four-year, three-sport standout says it wasn’t purely a love of the game that inspired him to walk on with the Boilermakers either.
Instead, he says it was an opportunity to test himself and to do something exceptional.
“I do really enjoy football, but I enjoy all my sports,” said Budzinski. “I love the game of football a lot, but I wanted to do something to push myself. I didn’t want to just go to Purdue and study civil engineering and not do anything else with myself because I knew I had the potential to do something better. And I don’t want to sound arrogant when I say I knew I could do this, but I didn’t want to settle for anything less than my best.”
Budzinski certainly has the physical gifts to be a successful player at the next level.
At 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, he’s been a four-year starter both on Culver’s basketball and football teams as well as a standout sprinter and hurdler with the Cavaliers’ track and field team. The wide receiver/ outside linebacker finished up his high school football career last fall with a total of 155 receptions for 1,778 yards with 19 touchdowns, and he was also rated the team’s top hitter on defense by head coach Andy Thomas. He’s likely looking at a defensive role at Purdue.
“Most of the schools that we’ve talked to or that have talked to us were interested in putting him on defense, maybe at defensive end or tight end,” said Thomas. “He’s a kid that works hard in the weight room, and he could easily put some strength on and maintain his speed and agility and be a contributor at one of those positions.”
“Purdue, I think, is interested in having me as an outside linebacker. Their main focus at this point is having me gain as much weight as possible in the offseason and maybe even redshirt me to gain 30 to 40 pounds,” Budzinski said.
As a player at a small Class A school, Budzinski has played everywhere from wide receiver to free safety to corner back to outside linebacker on the high school football field, and he says he’s less concerned with where he’ll play than he is with the adjustment to the DI level of play in general.
“Since Culver’s a small school I’ve kind of been all around with the positions,” he said. “The change between positions specifically won’t be too bad for me, but then on the other hand the change from the position at high school to that position at college will be tremendously different. Everyone there is 10 times stronger than me, and they’re experienced. That’s going to be the thing that I’m going to have to adapt to the most — going from a position where I’m used to being the biggest guy on the field and the fastest guy on the field, to now it’s going to be the exact opposite.”
Walking on with Purdue means he won’t receive a football scholarship in return for what amounts to a full-time job playing and practicing with the Boilermakers, but the good news for Budzinski is that he’s just as exemplary in the classroom as he is on the playing field.
He’s ranked second in his graduating class with a 3.987 GPA and 1,850 SAT score, and his balanced efforts as a student-athlete were rewarded Thursday when TCU awarded him a $1,000-a-year renewable scholarship at a National Football Foundation banquet in Mishawaka. Given the time commitments of a serious DI student-athlete, the money should be a big help.
“When I got it I was surprised because the group of guys that were there were really the cream of the crop — they were all the top athletes and top students in our area,” said Budzinski. “Obviously I’m honored to get it and even a little bit surprised… and not being able to get a full-time job having to do sports and school, any money that I can get is huge.”
“He’s a good athlete, but even more important he’s ranked number two in his class. He has great scores, and that helps as well,” said Thomas.
“(The scholarship) will help pay for his college. It’s something that he’s worked hard for, and he’s enjoying the fruits of his labors academically as well as athletically.”
Good timing is an important part of success in all walks of life, and Budzinski’s acceptance as a walk-on at Purdue is no different. When former Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell took over the program for erstwhile Boilermakers coach Danny Hope back on Dec. 5, the change in coaching staff meant that a door that might otherwise have been closed to Budzinski was now open.
“I think it kind of gave me a better chance, because with the new coaching staff they were more open to change,” said Budzinski. “They looked around more, so when we contacted them they were more interested in what Coach Thomas had to say about me, and they were more willing to think about having me on the team. With the old coach being there, there was a chance that they had already done a good amount of their scouting years before and they already had ideas, but now that there’s a new coaching staff they’re starting fresh, I have a chance to get in on the new fresh stuff.”
It’s an exciting time for Purdue football with Hazell taking the reins after a two-year stint with the Golden Flashes during which time the school’s first black head coach guided his team to its first winning season in more than a decade and first bowl bid in more than four decades last season. Budzinski is enthusiastic about the opportunity and looks forward to making the transition to Purdue at the same time Hazell and his staff do.
“I’m excited because being a freshman on the team, it’s always going to be hard. The coaching staff will be introducing new things, so the whole focus won’t just be on the freshmen,” he said. “Everyone will be fresh to new and different things. The seniors on the team won’t know everything, and everyone will be going through the same thing together with the new staff. We’ll all kind of grow together with the coach that way, as freshmen, seniors and every grade.”