By Craig Beilfuss
After a memorable 2021 in which the Boilermakers won nine of their 13 games, you can understand Wahlberg’s excitement.
Wahlberg, along with his teammates completed their 2022 spring camp with the return of their spring game. It was the first spring game since 2019.
The 6-4, 235-lb. Walhberg, now a junior, is part of a veteran linebacker crew and also plays on special teams.
During the 2021-22 season Wahlberg saw playing time in 10 games and finished the season with six tackles and one interception.
The last time Purdue won nine games was back in 2003 when they finished with an identical record of 9-4. Two of those victories were over previously unbeaten No. 2 Iowa (October 16) and No. 3 Michigan State (November 6). Those results gave the Boilermakers two wins over Top 5 teams for the first time since 1960.
Purdue finished 6-3 in Big Ten play, the most conference wins in a season since 2003 when the team went 6-2. They finished tied for second in the Big Ten West and capped off the season with a thrilling 48-45 overtime victory over Tennessee in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl.
“The 2021 season was one that I will never forget. Being able to put up a 9-4 season and win the Music City Bowl was an incredible experience,” Wahlberg said. “It was great to be able to play at some cool places, such as Wrigley Field. I was able to make a lot of progress as a linebacker and football player.”
Wahlberg, a linebacker, has some lofty goals for the upcoming football season.
“Some personal goals would be to be a big contributor on defense, take my game to the next level, and establish myself as a dominate linebacker in 2022,” Wahlberg said. “It’ll take continuing to stick to the process and continuing to familiarize with the playbook.”
During the 2021-2022 season, the Purdue defense held four opponents to fewer than 10 points, the first time it had been achieved since 1978, when six opponents were held to single digit totals. Wahlberg hopes to play a key role in that type of defense this fall.
Wahlberg, a scholarship player, is majoring in selling and Sales Management at Purdue. He doesn’t see too much of his old stomping grounds in Muskegon. He will spend all summer working out in West Lafayette preparing for the approaching season.
“We are here at Purdue training all summer long,” Wahlberg said. “We have a very good strength and conditioning program that we do in May, June and July to get us ready for the season.”
Wahlberg had adjustments to make going from a big-time player for Mona Shores to going to Purdue and not being in a starting role. That new role can be difficult.
“It’s always tough at first being the guy somewhere, then going somewhere and realizing you’re the young buck,” Wahlberg said. “It’s important to realize the process of what it takes to develop your mind and body in this conference. You just have keep working and know your times coming.”
First-year Purdue linebackers coach David Elson doesn’t think Wahlberg’s time is too far away to play a major role on the Boilermaker’s defense. So far, he likes what he sees.
“He’s really made a lot of progress this spring and gave us some confidence both on defense and on special teams,” said Elson. “Time will tell how much playing time Jacob gets. We have two veteran linebackers, but you never know when injuries will come up. Jacob has proven to be very capable and he just needs to continue to improve before we open preseason camp. He has some good personal goals and he wants to be a big contributor this year and I think his goals are attainable.”
Elson, who served as the head coach at Western Kentucky for seven seasons (2003-09), joined the Boilermaker staff as a quality control coach in August 2021 after spending 2020 as the defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach at Marion University in Indianapolis. Prior to his lone season at Marion, Elson spent three years (2017-19) at Ball State as the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator. BSU led the Mid-American Conference in interceptions (15) and turnovers gained (24) during his final season in Muncie. Both stats cracked the top 15 nationally.
Elson has served as the defensive coordinator at a number of stops during his coaching career, including: Western Illinois, Southern Illinois, New Mexico State and WKU. He has experience in the Big Ten Conference, spending one season as defensive quality control at Indiana.
With Elson calling the defense throughout the 2002 season, Western Kentucky captured the Football Championship Subdivision National Championship. Two years later, he was a finalist for the 2004 Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year Award as the Hilltoppers’ head coach.
Walhberg knows how he became prepared for this high level of college football in the Big Ten.
“Mona Shores football has prepared me for the workload that playing at this level entails,” Wahlberg said. “Playing for Shores made the high school to college transition easier. I made the choice to go to Purdue because of the coaching staff, it felt like a good fit, and the education.”
Wahlberg was quick to rattle off a few names of mentors who have guided him on his journey of playing on the big stage in the Big Ten Conference on Saturday afternoons.
“My biggest mentors growing up through football are my dad, Coach Koziak, Coach Check and Coach James,” he said. “Those men have groomed me into the man and football player I am today.”
Wahlberg offered some advice for younger players looking to make it to the big time
“I’d say outwork everyone around you every single day,” Walhberg said. “It’s easy to work hard one day and do something different the next. What’s hard is to wake up and do it again and again and again. You have to fall in love with your work and understand that nothing happens overnight.”
Purdue will open the 2022 season on national TV (FOX) on September 1 as it hosts Penn State in an early Big Ten Conference match-up at Ross-Ade Stadium.