By Randy Whetstone Jr.–
The transition between winter and spring brings about new change. The same concept is concurrent with the University of Louisville football team. After capping off an incredible season last year with the Sugar Bowl crown, the Cardinals were ready to plant a new seed for this upcoming 2013 season after their first spring practice. The coaching staff is hoping to plant the right seeds within each player so, as a whole, the harvest will be great. Expectations are high in football land, with speculation about the Cardinals being a potential Top 10 team. The football program is at the brink of elevating to new heights in national prominence.
After the first spring practice, Coach Charlie Strong was pleased with the synergy of a new beginning.
“It was a good day today and I’m just happy the way we came out,” Strong said. “The attitude was right, and just how well we competed. It’s good that you have a veteran team now; guys know exactly what to do and where to go.” Coach Strong has a mature bunch of guys this year, thus giving him a different approach to his players. “The approach is different now that you have an older group of guys now, so they understand the work, and they understand the coaches and what they expect.”
After the Cardinals triumphed over the Gators to win the biggest BCS Bowl game in school history, a reflection period was essential so the team could recharge and start anew for this upcoming season. Coach Strong elaborated about the difference between last year’s first spring practice and this year’s.
“It’s a team coming off a Sugar Bowl win and a team with a lot of confidence,” Strong explained. “I like the overall work ethic, and just how hard the guys went. You just look at it, now the guys know the checks on defense, offensively, and the tempo that we expect.”
The running back position for the Cardinals has revived life. Coach Strong was enthused to have Dominique Brown back to produce and be a healthy element to the team. “Well the good thing about Dominique is two years ago he was a starter at that position, and now we get him back. He was injured last season, and had a season to heal up. So now with him being healthy, you have a running back in place because Senorise is banged up and Jeremy Wright is gone, so now you get Dominique Brown back. You like the bigger back. Dominique is a different back, because he just big and powerful.”
Coach Strong still has a harmonious mindset with his talented team. He does a remarkable job with keeping this unit cohesive and working together. His message is still the same, but more effective as new players are incorporated into the momentum the Cardinals have, “It’s all about the team. We have a lot of individual talent on this team, but it’s still about the team, and no one can achieve anything without the teamwork and being together.” The leadership with this team begins with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. His spirit and attitude filters into the lives of his teammates to work in concordance with one another. Coach Strong emphasizes this theory. So when Heisman talks begin to swirl in Cardinal Nation, no one seems to get too anxious. Coach Strong is a humble leader, and thinks the same about his quarterback, “Well the thing about Teddy, is he is so humble, he doesn’t want all that praise. Only thing he wants to do is go play, and let his play speak for itself. You won’t see a guy that wants to get promoted. We don’t need to promote Teddy Bridgewater, because if we play as a team and we win as a team everyone will be able to enjoy it.”
Louisville will have four nationally televised games this year in their schedule. The concern about who is on the schedule is not a major priority for this team.
“We just have to play with what we have, and we have to prepare to go play each game. So I don’t worry too much about the schedule, because we still have to get ready as a football team,” said Strong. “I don’t think we can overlook anyone even though we are four years into it right now, we still have to go and compete. There’s a lot of teams on that schedule that we played last season and we didn’t play so well, you know Connecticut is still up there and they beat us, so we still have to get prepared to play each game.”
The leader of this year’s team will be quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Last season he played 13 games with a passing percentage of 68.5 along with 3,718 yards and 27 touchdown passes. He was elated to get back on the field.
“It’s a great feeling,” Bridgewater revealed. “This offseason went well and today guys came out and competed. The first day is about being organized and showing effort, and today everyone came out and gave their all.” Bridgewater and the team’s approach to a new season have the same optimistic tune to it. “We’re just going to still grind, and not forget where we came from. You know a couple of years ago we were 7-6, so its things like that we just can’t forget.”
An authentic and genuine disposition by Bridgewater gives no attention to the talks of Heisman candidate.
“I don’t pay any attention to it,” Bridgewater said. “I’m all about this team, all about the team having success. I’m all about my teammates becoming better players.”
The Heisman is no goal for Teddy. His primary focus along with his teammates is “team effort” and a “national championship.” He stated that his maturity towards the team has been impactful and the biggest change thus far this spring.
“There’s a big difference, being that this is my third spring, I kind of feel like a veteran,” he said. “I feel like one of those guys on the team that everyone looks up to. You just want to be out there and be a captain, the young guys don’t know their assignment; you want to help them out. That’s something that’s different about this spring.” Teddy talked about the center of the team’s confidence and how it helps them collectively, saying, “Just knowing that all of our guys are coming back, we have that chemistry, and we all have faith in each other, and believe in each other.”
Bridgewater says he has been improving on his mechanics and “becoming more of a leader” during the offseason, while “throwing to my left more, and throwing a better deep ball.” He is working to establish the components to become an effective leader.
“It has to come naturally,” Bridgewater explained. “It comes from within. At times, sometimes I’m a shy person. Lately I’ve been showing my true character, and getting on guys when things don’t look right. So it’s all from within.”
Louisville is anticipating the arrival of Kentucky High School Mr. Football wide receiver James Quick. By Bridgewater working on his deep ball combined with the speed of Quick, opposing defenses are in a heap of trouble. Teddy looks forward to targeting this new weapon in the offense. “He’s a great player and we can’t wait to get him,” Bridgewater said. “He’s one of those guys who can change the game with his speed and he can do it all—in special teams also.”
In the previous two seasons, Teddy had encouragement from Will Stein. His wisdom and veteran leadership as an older teammate served well to the production of Bridgewater as a younger quarterback. Now with Stein’s departure, Teddy is an upperclassman now doing a lot of the same things during Stein’s tenure.
“Will is the guy who pushed me. He knew the offense, right now I’m the guy who has to teach the other quarterbacks in the room as with my first two springs; Will was the guy teaching me.”
To be a dominant force in the Big East, Bridgewater states, “It’s a team effort, it’s going to take all twenty-two guys including special teams, each week, day in and day out. Right now, we just have to stay together and not listen to the outsiders, and just know that we have to trust each other. We just have to keep fighting and keep working, nothing is given, nothing is handed to you. We know if we want something, we have to go out and get it.”
In the heart of March Madness, University of Louisville men’s basketball stands as a firm foundation in the family tree of Louisville Athletics. Teddy gave his perception and encouragement toward his athletic contemporaries.
“They’re going to make a run,” he predicted. “To me, I feel like they’re going to win it all; I have that much confidence in those guys. Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva, Russ Smith; those guys are great people off the court also. They just show their true athletic ability on the court, and that’s something I love to see.”
Louisville will look to plant the right seed in the minds and hearts of all Cardinal fans as they prepare for their first spring game that will take place on April 13 at 1:00pm at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Free admission is permissible to everyone.
Photo by Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal