Crown jewel for Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium already stunning

The 10,000-seat expansion to Cardinal Stadium is  on schedule and under budget, and will be ready for the season opener in 2018 (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Still hard to believe for this long time University of Louisville football fan who dared to dream of UofL someday having its own facility while having his view partially obscured by a steel post at the fairgrounds.

But here we are again, back at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for an update on still another expansion. This one a luxurious state-of-the-art, 10,000-seat addition, which will complete the oval. Raising capacity to 65,000 seats, along with growing expectations for the UofL football program.

Mark Jurich has been responsible for raising funds and overseeing the stadium expansion (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The construction towers over the north end zone, confirming that the latest addition will be the crown jewel, a striking tribute to college football in Louisville. “The magnitude of it is stunning,” said Tom Jurich, standing in front of the massive combination of wood, concrete and steel framework on Thursday.

The Vice President of Athletics confirmed that the project is on time and under budget and will be complete in time for the home opener in 2018.”I don’t think any college in the country can compete with this as far as the uniqueness of it,” he said.

It’s no secret that Tom has delegated most of the responsibility, including the fundraising and construction, of the stadium expansion to his son Mark Jurich, senior associate athletic director.

The younger Jurich said he is excited for UofL fans who will occupy the end zone expansion. “Our fans are going to be right on top, giving our players an atmosphere unlike anything they’ve experienced before,” he said.

“I’m excited to know they participated in this being built, buying seats, buying tickets to see this,” he said. “It is just the next step the football program and the university are taking together.”

These premium seats will have access to two premier gathering areas; the Pepsi Club, which will provide viewing access to the field, and another premium club, which will be similar to AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys.

All of the concrete work is expected to be complete by this year’s home opener against Clemson on Saturday, Sept. 16th.  Serving notice to the Tigers and the rest of the college football world that the UofL football program intends to be a major player, now and in the future.

 

 

 

Focus on getting back on track at UofL kickoff luncheon

Consensus among UofL football players is to make fans forget about the end of the season collapse last year (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

The Summer of 2017 is winding down, finally coming to an end, and the end can’t get here soon enough if the enthusiasm of University of Louisville football fans is any indication. Approximately 1,600 of them packing the grand ballroom of the Louisville Marriott for the annual Kickoff Luncheon.

Lamar Jackson and Reggie Bonnafon are among the team’s seven captains (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The annual luncheon always a welcome relief for fans, cut off from UofL sports for almost three months, finally getting back together again with their fellow fans. Eager to celebrate UofL again, much in common, enjoying a refuge from the constant attacks, ready to start winning again.

Coach Bobby Petrino saying the Marriott management told him it was the largest crowd for any event ever held at the downtown hotel.

Nobody any happier than Tom Jurich, vice president of athletics, noting, “It’s a great time of year, having all the athletes and teams back. It’s very vibrant around campus, seeing all the students again, the athletes and all the new construction.”

Bobby Petrino wants Lamar Jackson to take advantage of the talent around him this season (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Jurich announced the beginning of a “We The Future” marketing campaign. “You will see that everywhere around campus,” he said. “We as Card Nation have built and built and built, and now we really want to build for the future and look to the future. You’re going to be hearing much more about it.”

The immediate focus, of course, is the future of UofL  football, and the opening game against Purdue at Indianapolis Sept. 2. Quarterback Lamar Jackson recalls how the 2016 season ended and indicated that he’s eager to get UofL football going in the right direction again.

“We have a little chip on our shoulders after losing the last three games last year,” said Quarterback Lamar Jackson. “We’re going to come hard. I’m telling you that right now.”

Coach Petrino said he really likes this team and believes Jackson will have another great year. “The respect that Lamar has from his teammates because of how hard he works makes us all better,” he said.

“He’s going to focus and really concentrate on utilizing the talent around him … His knowledge of the game is unbelievably improving and his ability to read defenses and make checks at the line of scrimmage is something I’m really excited about right now.”

New address for Neutral Zone, new gear for UofL, UK fans

Neutral Zone has relocated to 11524 Shelbyville Road in Middletown.

The Neutral Zone, a popular purveyor of quality University of Louisville fan gear, welcomed customers on Wednesday from a brand new location at 11524 Shelbyville Road in Middletown.

The new store is the third location for the company, which originally opened as CardWear in 1999 at a location across from Oxmoor Mall on Shelbyville Road. The company changed its name to Neutral Zone in 2003 to accommodate University of Kentucky fans. The facility is located between Schellers Fitness & Cycling and Willis Klein.

Rick Paulin is planning a grand reopening of the Neutral Zone on August. 19th.

Owner Rick Paulin says the new store will carry as much merchandise as the previous store on Blankenbaker Parkway. “This new location provides us with a more flexibility to respond more quickly to the preferences of our customers,” he said.

“Our passion is to serve our customers with merchandise that reflects the love for their schools,” he added. “We want to stay abreast of trends while providing a good selection of choices.”

Customers will see a lot of new designs and inventory in the new location, including adidas and Nike, along with such brands as Cutter & Buck, Retro Brands, Camp David and Legacy baseball caps. Paulin believes the smaller location will also translate to more value for Neutral Zone’s customers.

In addition to fan apparel, the store also offers a wide variety of other items, such as Woodford Reserve bourbon balls, Bourbon Q and Makers Mark sauces, watches, jewelry, glassware, banners, ad infinitum.

The company will continue to share space with Richards Awards & Engraving, which has been around since 1939, doing trophies and service awards for local businesses. Both are family-owned companies, with Rick’s wife Sharon and sons Jeremy and Matthew engaged in the business.

The store will have a grand reopening on Saturday, August 19th, to celebrate the move to the new location.

Jackson needs Louisville teammates to share spotlight

Experience has taught long-time University of Louisville diehards that it’s best to keep those expectations in check. This one still hasn’t recovered from the disappointing end of the 2016 football season.

Lamar Jackson can’t do it all by himself (Charlie Springer photo).

Three humiliating defeats, including a loss to the University of Kentucky and two games (Houston and LSU) in which the Cardinals were never competitive. The loss to UK occurring after UofL’s Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson coughed up the ball on Wildcats’ 10-yard line.

The worst possible way to end a season. Demoralizing, plunging from sight after being  considered a serious college playoff contender most of the season. A large dose of humble pie for those who dared to envision the ultimate for UofL football.

But that was last year. Here we go again, with UofL kicking off fall camp on Monday in preparation for a new season. Time to put the past behind, look to the future, trusting that Bobby Petrino figured out what happened to his team. Not allow it to happen again. The coach having shuffled his coaching staff during the off season, bringing in some new faces and fresh approaches.

If 2016 taught us anything, it was that having college football’s most elusive quarterback  is no guarantee of success. Jackson was the first player in Football Bowl Series (FBS) history with 3,300 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards in a season, running for 21 touchdowns and passing for 30 more TDs. Incredible numbers.

Never doubt, however, that someone on the Florida State coaching staff hasn’t spent the last year reviewing game film from UofL’s 63-10 win over the Seminoles last season. Jackson ran for four touchdowns and passed for a fifth in that one. That won’t happen again against FSU.

Good that the game was early. While Jackson was putting all those points on the board, his offensive line was regressing, making it more difficult for him at the end of the season. Some argue that he had already clinched the Heisman Trophy before the collapse. He was lucky to find the line of scrimmage as the curtain closed on the season.

Maybe opposing coaches had just figured out how to manage Jackson, knowing that if they could contain him they could stop Louisville. He definitely was not the threat at the end of the season that he was during the first half of the year.

No one, certainly not this observer, doubts that Jackson is a team player. He was always more critical of himself than his coaches were, even when he was accumulating all those touchdowns. Needing to work within the system perhaps, instead of so much freelancing, knowing how to take advantage of his teammates instead of taking it all upon himself.

One suspects that Lamar Jackson would be okay with not repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner if, in the process, he can make his teammates better players. Even if that means fewer touchdowns, accolades and personal highlight reels.

Jackson has been there, done the Heisman thing, but it was not quite what it was could have been, not with that disappointing end for his team last season.

Many issues but Greg Postel eager to help shape UofL’s future

There are no shortcuts when it comes resolving some of the current issues plaguing the University of Louisville. The issues are complex, some are divisive, all of them requiring ongoing attention.

Interim President Greg Postel is confident, however, that the challenges, which include accreditation, academic funding, arena financing and NCAA infractions, are being tackled comprehensively. But Postel is not spending all of his time looking backward, he’s also looking forward to putting the problems behind for the University.

Greg Postel has been at UofL for 23 years, serving as Vice President of Health Affairs before becoming Interim President.

“I’m to the point where we have to start turning our focus on where we’re going next,” he told UofL’s Mark Hebert, director of media programming and production in a YouTube released Tuesday.  “I don’t think it’s possible for people to come to work everyday and be excited about solving old problems.”

Postel said he is in contact on a daily basis with people throughout the community who are anticipating the next stage in UofL’s development — donors, potential donors, politicians, citizens throughout the community, students, staff, faculty, administrators, giving him a good sense what the community wants to happen.

“I think people are pleased that the problems are being addressed, and comforted, I hope, that those problems are being addressed in a thoughtful way,” he said. “For people to be enthusiastic, however, they have to have something to look forward to.  That means what is our strategy and how we are going to follow it.”

He noted that UofL essentially has two strategic plans, the 20/20 plan developed in 2008 and the 21st Century initiative from 2012, with points of focus including education, research, diversity, community engagement and stewardship of resources.

“My concern, or the deficiency in both plans was not the quality of the goals but I don’t think enough thought was given as to how all the resources would be marshaled to accomplish those goals.

“This community is hopeful about the future of the University of Louisville. In my position, I hear a tremendous amount of optimism, that people are pleased that UofL is ready to move to the next stage in its evolution. UofL is going to do some great things and be a contributing member in this community.

“That’s exciting to me. I put everything I have into this job.”