By Sam Draut
As the dust settled on National Signing Day, Louisville collected 20 letters of intent which ranked in the mid-40s nationally by recruiting sites like Rivals, Scout, ESPN, and 247Sports.
It is a relatively flavorless recruiting class in Bobby Petrino’s return, but in a limited period of time, he was able to address the necessary components.
Petrino was hired on January 9, and as he accumulated his staff, they only had three weeks to salvage the 2014 recruiting class.
“We’re excited about this class. I can’t say enough about the hard work that our assistants put in to make this happen in such a small time frame,” Petrino said. “We had a very short period of time to work with, but we were able to go out and create some relationships.”
Louisville held onto local Trinity product Reggie Bonnafon. The quarterback committed in early January 2013, and remained true to his commitment after the coaching change.
“Teams really came after Reggie Bonnafon. He actually had another visit set up, but he stayed strong,” Petrino said. “It was huge to get him here.”
The only in state recruit this year, Bonnafon was ranked as the 22nd best quarterback nationally by Scout.
“We’re telling Reggie Bonnafon that we want him to compete for the starting job right away,” Petrino said.
Jake Smith, John Miller and Jamon Brown head into their senior season, three offensive linemen who have started the past three seasons.
This leaves a huge whole in offensive line in 2015, but Louisville was able to bring in four offensive linemen to eventually fill the positions.
Kelby Johnson is a junior college transfer and could potentially compete for the starting tackle position this year. After Johnson, Louisville brought in three high school linemen who would presumably redshirt next season. Lukayus McNeil and Danny Burns were ranked by Rivals nationally as top 40 offensive linemen.
“Kelby Johnson was a guy we really wanted because of his experience. He’s played in this conference,” Petrino said. “He’ll compete right out of the gate for a starting job once spring ball starts.”
Defensively, Louisville received a surprising commitment from Sharieff Rhaheed, an outside linebacker from Fort Pierce, Florida. Rhaheed should fit well as Louisville transitions to a 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Rhaheed was ranked nationally as the 24th best outside linebacker and also received offers from Alabama, USC, and Michigan State among others.
As Louisville moves to the ACC, they will continue to recruit against the other 13 teams in the conference.
The Cardinals recruiting class ranked eighth in the ACC according to Scout. Louisville will play in the Atlantic Division, where their recruiting class finished fourth in the seven team division behind Florida State, N.C. State, and Clemson.
In his first stint at Louisville, Petrino was able to find hidden gems while on the recruiting trail such as former two star prospect turned Louisville stars and future NFL draft picks like Harry Douglas, Amobi Okoye, Breno Giacomini and Gary Barnidge.
“You have to trust your own evaluation and go through the process. It’s easier said than done to trust yourself and not worry about the stars,” Petrino said.
As important as finding diamonds in the rough is, bringing in high profile players as the program grows is critical.
While at Louisville from 2003-06, Petrino’s recruiting classes ranked 48th nationally in 2003, 54th nationally in 2004, 43rd nationally in 2005 and 26th nationally in 2006.
The Louisville staff inherits a program built on solid recruiting classes over the past few years, which allows the staff to choose to redshirt some of the 18 high school athletes instead of playing them out of necessity because of depth.
With the staff put together and the move to the ACC nearly complete, Louisville’s recruiting classes should continue to improve as Petrino continues to reconnect with the fertile recruiting grounds in the Southeast.
“I like to recruit the states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia because I learned when I was down there with the Jaguars just how much the young guys down there are engrossed in football. I like to recruit players who grew up like that,” Petrino said.
“My philosophy is that from today on, we’re getting these guys prepared to play next fall,” Petrino said. “They need to have that mentality as they go into the weight room.”