DALLAS -- That Purdue enters today's inaugural Heart of Texas Bowl as prohibitive underdogs to Oklahoma State seems to be as appropriate as black-eyed peas on New Year's Day.
The Boilermakers, after all, and their standout running back Akeem Shavers are survivors, with persistence and ignoring their doubters the only reasons for their appearance at 11 a.m. today at the storied Cotton Bowl in Fair Park.
"This is a dream come true," said Shavers, Purdue's lead back from Texarkana, Texas. "This will be the first time I actually played in the Cotton Bowl. It's a little surreal."
Purdue persevered through a five-game losing streak midway through the season before making an improbable run of three straight road victories -- including winning in Iowa City for the first time in 20 years -- simply to become bowl-eligible.
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Even more dreamlike is Shavers' college football journey that started on a bridge to nowhere and will end in his home state.
When he leaves Purdue with his business degree, which he has already earned, Shavers will know how to get a job.
"Growing up, just about everyone in our area wanted to be a Longhorn or Razorback," Shavers said, knowing as a senior at Redwater High School that he would be neither.
In fact, the now 5-foot-11, 203-pound senior went practically unnoticed by just about every college coach.
Shavers' coach his senior year used influence he had at Independence Community College in Kansas to open a door for his star runner.
He played there a year and then transferred to Tyler Junior College.
When his eligibility was up there, he was back to square one. And, again, he had no real bites.
"I sent out a lot of my films to anybody I could think of and was hoping for the best," Shavers said. "Hoping somebody would notice me. I called, checked, called again. And called again. And again."
Shavers did all he could do and then crossed his fingers.
Purdue liked what they saw.
It's been a win-win for both.
He appeared in all 12 games last year and rushed for 519 yards and six touchdowns, but set the tone for his senior season with an MVP selection at the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl where he gained a career-high 149 yards on 22 carries against Western Michigan.
As the team's lead back in 2012, Shavers has totaled 1,104 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns.
The Boilermakers, with Shavers and Ralph Bolden getting the bulk of the carries, averaged 201 rushing yards in the three-game winning streak.
Shavers had 118 total yards and a touchdown in the Iowa upset and 99 yards rushing and a touchdown against Illinois.
He saved his best for the finale, 126 yards rushing and a touchdown and 99 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the bowl clincher.
"The last three games he's been tremendous," Purdue interim coach Patrick Higgins said. "He's a quality individual.
"He represents us in a fashion we want to be represented in, he's very humble and he does a great job on the football field."
Shavers is one of seven players on the Purdue roster who won't look at you funny if you tell them "Howdy." That includes freshman offensive lineman J.J. Prince of Southlake Carroll.
The Texans are a tight-knit group, he said.
"It's like you never left home," Shavers said of his experience at Purdue. "They bring you in and treat you like family."