By Sam Draut
A year removed from playing his final game in the NFL, former University of Louisville safety Kerry Rhodes stopped in Louisville this weekend to judge the Miss Kentucky USA Pageant, calling upon a far different skill set that the 2006 All Pro safety is known for.
Rhodes came to U of L in 2000 and was a part of five bowl trips capped off by a Liberty Bowl victory against tenth ranked Boise State. He finished his career at Louisville with 167 tackles and 11 interceptions earning All-Conference USA honors his senior year.
Rhodes believes those years helped to lay the foundation for Louisville football.
“That is how we feel about it, we feel like we put the football program on the map. We had so many good players on the team and a lot of them went onto greater success in the NFL and off the field success as well,” Rhodes said. “We felt like we kick started the program again, when Petrino came in and won the Orange Bowl, it solidified the program, it was a big deal.”
After being away from the U of L football program for nine years, Rhodes was able to return for the 2013 Spring Game. Over those nine years, the program had earned three Conference Championships, two BCS bowl victories, and Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium expanded to 55,000.
“I think they are back on the right track right now. For a couple years they fell off,” Rhodes said. “Charlie Strong came in and gave a lot of energy to the program. He brought back creditability and also winning back, which is a big thing. It’s good to see the people behind the football team again.”
Now, Rhodes’s former coach Bobby Petrino takes over the program once again.
“It’s great that he is back to keep these things going. I am a big fan of Petrino, there have been different opinions of him, but my time personally with him was good,” Rhodes said. “He actually opened my eyes my junior year. I came in and played well but didn’t play as well as I should have. He was one of those coaches that would let you know, so I came back out my senior year and was All-Conference and played well, and eventually got drafted.”
Rhodes was drafted in the fourth round, 123 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft by the New York Jets.
“I owe a lot of my success to him and I think he is the right guy for the job right now and especially with this transition he can do well,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes dealt with what a majority of U of L’s roster now faces, two different head coaches during their time within the program. John L. Smith recruited Rhodes and coached him for his freshman and sophomore year, but then Smith left for Michigan State. Petrino was hired and coached Rhodes for his junior and senior year.
“You have to try to immerse yourself in the new system right away. It’s going to be what he says goes anyways, you have to be one of those guys, especially if you want to be a leader, try to buy into his system early, be a guy who’s affirming and not stuck in your ways,” Rhodes said. “It’s important to be versatile, everything isn’t going to be perfect for you, but Petrino is a guy who is proven to win and do it right, and you want to be a part of it.”
Though Rhodes had a successful eight year career in the NFL playing for the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals, he said he had always planned and enjoyed life outside of football.
“Right now, I’m transitioning to my second life, I’m getting into the acting stuff, and I am actually starting my own production company. We just got finished shooting a couple of projects, one on Antoine Walker, the former Kentucky basketball player. We did a documentary on him and his life and his ups and downs,” Rhodes said.
Also, Rhodes has set up a foundation named The Kerry Rhodes Foundation, which supports young men and women achieve educational success and physical well-being.
For a majority of his life, Rhodes has been defined as a stand out athlete, now he transitions away from football, but a bright future looms ahead.