The success of the Louisville football program can’t be attributed to just one person. It’s not just Charlie Strong’s coaching or Teddy Bridgewater’s leadership; it’s a collection of well-disciplined athletes. Without a doubt, one of the most feared and punishing Cardinal athletes on the gridiron is red shirt junior safety Hakeem Smith.
The All Big East safety brings sure tackling in the defensive backfield and is up in the trenches with the big guys. Smith keeps focused throughout the week leading up to game day.
“We have to keep our tempo up throughout the week in practice, we can’t relax one bit, and we have to keep everybody motivated,” Smith said. The defensive leader also led the team in tackles with eight in the Cardinals’ home opener victory against the Kentucky Wildcats.
“You’ve just got to make a play on the ball. We’ve got to create turnovers; we have to execute,” Smith said. “It’s all about playing smart. You have to understand the playbook and understand what’s going on.”
Head coach Charlie Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford have brought a defensive prowess to the U of L football program—something Smith acknowledges.
“We expect ourselves to be ranked high in defense and try to get us to a BCS bowl. We have to continue to learn how to win,” Smith said. Smith seemed to have his roots in defense.
“I started playing when I was nine. The first team I played for was the Jets. We weren’t so good. I was a running back, but I didn’t score my first touchdown until I got switched to defense,” Smith said. “I love watching Ray Lewis and Ed Reed play. I try to be like Ed Reed; his ability to make a play on the ball—you know, just being a ball hawk—I’ve got to learn to be a ball hawk as well.”
As is the Charlie Strong way, U of L football emphasizes good work ethic and better character, creating a defense no team will overlook throughout the season.
“The fans are going to see a high powered offense and a high powered defense take the field each week,” Smith said. “On defense you’re going to see a lot of big hits, a lot of take aways, and a lot of quarterback sacks.”
Photos: Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal