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Experience at offensive line bodes well for Cards
By Sam Draut
In 2011, three young freshmen appeared on Louisville’s offensive line as the Cardinals battled back from a 2-4 start to win a share of the Big East Championship.
Flash forward three years, and those three linemen now make up the seventh most experienced offensive line in college football, combining for a total of 121 starts.
Seniors John Miller, Jake Smith, and Jamon Brown now lead the offensive line as the Cardinals transition to the ACC.
“We are really fortunate Jamon, John and Jake are doing a great job, they’re upperclassmen and they’ve been out there a lot, so we’re really impressed with them,” Louisville offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said.
Brown, the starting left tackle, is a local product from Fern Creek High School who has seen the biggest transformation under the new coaching staff.
“He dropped between 20-25 pounds,” Miller said. “It helps him a lot, week to week we see a lot better pass rushers in the ACC, he has quick feet and is moving around a lot better.”
“We challenged him to drop pounds, we thought it would give him an opportunity to be a better athlete, give him an opportunity to be in better condition and play better in the fourth quarter,” McGee said.
Chris Klenakis is the offensive line coach and also directs the running game. He was impressed by the unit’s progress in the summer, crediting the strength and conditioning coaches for the improvement.
“We’re leaner, stronger and moving around a lot better,” Klenakis said.
Smith has moved around the offensive line throughout his career, changing guard spots and playing center. In his final year, he is set to start at right guard, but he is always willing to move around.
“I wouldn’t say I feel comfortable playing one position or the other, I go out and play the position they need me depending on what the lineup looks like,” Smith said. “I’ll play wherever they need me.”
“Jake’s versatility gives us options which is outstanding,” Klenakis said. “He can play our inside position, either guard or center, it opens up a lot of avenues for us.”
With Miller slated as the starting left guard, two positions, center and right tackle were fought over throughout spring and fall camp.
Tobijah Hughley, a former walk on from Lexington who just earned a scholarship a few weeks ago will be the starting center.
The six-foot-three, 289 pound junior had no formal Division I offers out of high school and fundraised his way to walk on at Louisville.
Kelby Johnson, a junior college transfer from ASA College won the starting spot at right tackle.
Brown, Miller and Smith have helped to work with the younger linemen during the offseason to prepare them for the long twelve-game season.
“We tell them they need to become part of us, they need to work diligently to get into their playbooks, practice good habits,” Smith said. “There is a way to go about your business and we try to teach them by example and give them a kick in the butt every once in a while.”
“Me, Jake and Jamon, we still have to get better every day and bring some of the younger guys along, get them going, and keep getting better each and every day,” Miller said.
The three core components of the offensive line have paved the way over the past three years to a 30-9 record and two bowl victories.
“It helps a lot when you have guys who have been down that road, they can help you anticipate things and make adjustments, they have seen a lot of scenarios,” Klenakis said.