Tag Archives: recruiting class

Photo courtesy of 247sports.com

Petrino rounds up recruiting class despite late hire

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.”

Photo by Austin Lassell

Strong’s first recruiting class changes Louisville football culture

By Sam Draut

As 20 seniors walked off the field at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for the final time after a 24-17 win over Memphis on Saturday, the mood was rather subdued.

The 46,421 fans in attendance said goodbye to a group of seniors who had resurrected the Louisville football program, going 35-15 and reeling off four consecutive bowl games.

“I told them there are not too many teams around the country that can say they have 10 wins back-to-back and are 21-3 in their last 24 games,” U of L head coach Charlie Strong said. “I don’t care who you play. It doesn’t really matter. You’re 21-3 in the last two years.”

Some seniors came to Louisville as it dipped down into obscurity under Steve Kragthorpe. Hakeem Smith, Damian Copeland, Champ Lee, and Roy Philon were a part of Kragthorpe’s 2009 recruiting class and redshirted the final year of his tenure.

When Strong was hired in December 2009, he faced the task of rebuilding a depleted football team.  He sold the recruits on the future of Louisville football and the role they could play in building it up.

Strong was able to sway recruits like B.J. Butler and Preston Brown who were committed to other schools.  The recruits bought into his vision for the future.

Because his roster was undermanned, Strong was forced to play his freshmen.

This group of seniors battled as underclassmen, though they were bruised and beaten, they helped to lead Louisville to its first bowl appearance and bowl victory since 2006.

“I just know this, the reason we are in the position we are right now is because of the hard work that they put into our program,” Strong said.

The 7-6 season that culminated at the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in Tampa, Florida laid a foundation for the future.

Strong’s first year success rejuvenated the program and brought in players like Teddy Bridgewater, Calvin Pryor, DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers.

After two consecutive bowl trips and seasons finishing at 7-6, Strong’s first recruiting class headed into their junior year which ended in historic fashion.

The Sugar Bowl victory over number three Florida included a touchdown catch from Copeland, Brown and Hakeem Smith combining for 20 tackles and Marcus Smith bursting off the edge for the game clinching sack.

These 20 seniors entered into their final year at U of L with a preseason ranking of ninth nationally.

The Cardinals climbed up to sixth in the country, but lost 38-35 to Central Florida, potentially ending their chances at a BCS Bowl and a Conference Championship.

Louisville sits at 10-1 and has one remaining regular season game against Cincinnati.  U of L’s BCS Bowl hopes appear miniscule as UCF has two remaining games against teams without winning records.

A season that began with talks of Louisville running the table and coasting to another Conference Championship and BCS berth could now end in discontent.

Since when has 10 wins been considered a disappointment in the Louisville football program?

These seniors have radically changed the culture of the program.  As freshmen, six wins and a bowl appearance was enough for Strong to be nominated Coach of the Year.  As seniors, 10 wins isn’t enough to stamp a distinguished seal on the season.

Regardless of how the final weeks of the regular season shake out, this group can claim two Conference championships, four bowl berths, and a BCS victory.

There aren’t too many classes in Louisville football history with a similar resume.  These 20 seniors bought in Strong’s vision and followed him with unflinching fate as they built up the program.

“I just wanted them to know how special they are and how much they have put into the program and how far the program has come,” Strong said. “For this group it was so special.”