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September 11, 2010There's was no immediate official word on the condition of Boilermaker leading receiver Keith Smith following Purdue's 31-21 win over Western Illinois.
But the tone of the post-game press conference suggested the fifth-year senior's right-knee injury is a major one.
"We just have to rally around Keith," said defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, Smith's classmate and fellow team co-captain. "It's a terrible, unfortunate injury and you hate to see it happen to such a good guy like Keith. I think in the locker room (after the game) not too many people knew the extent of the injury so it was pretty celebratory because we won, but as word spread it got kind of sad.
"But we can't be sad. We can't dwell on the loss of Keith. It's a huge loss, no doubt. But other guys are going to have to step up."
Smith was injured early in the fourth quarter, after catching a pass near the Western Illinois sideline and getting hit. The play didn't count, because there was a penalty on it.
The receiver remained down for a while. After medical personnel tended to him for a while, he was helped by two people back to the Boilermaker locker room. He did not return to the Purdue sideline until the game's final minutes, when he was propped up on crutches with his knee wrapped. As the game wound down, Smith was carted off.
"Right now we're just trying not to think about it," defensive tackle Kawann Short said. "We're going to have to adjust. We know we're going to have to do it without him now, because this was bad news that came to us on a good day that we won.
"We're giving him our prayers and wishing he was here with us, but now we just have to do it without him."
Coach Danny Hope could not offer much solid information about Smith, with further examination pending for the star receiver.
But the coach conceded he's "not optimistic" based on the fact Smith was taken directly back to the locker room from the Leatherneck sideline.
"Our prayers are with him and hopefully he'll be back," fellow co-captain Dan Dierking said.
In the meantime, Purdue not only has to press forward without its best offensive player - Smith's one of college football's best at his position - but also one of its top leaders.
"We really have to pull the team together," Dierking said, "and be closer than ever."
This is the second major injury sustained by a top offensive player, as leading rusher Ralph Bolden tore his ACL in the spring and appears likely to redshirt this season.
Smith caught 91 passes for 1,100 yards as a junior, and had 18 catches through seven quarters of action this season. He was also serving as Purdue's top punt returner.
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