Heisman, Smeisman, Lamar Jackson will be much improved

Lots of different feelings tumbling around, ranging from unbridled confidence, cautious optimism to some outright trepidation, as the 2017 college football season begins Saturday for the University of Louisville.

For the first time ever, UofL will have a Heisman Trophy winner calling signals, one of the fast and most elusive quarterbacks to ever play the game, crazy quick feet and a shotgun arm. He’s also bigger, has another year of maturity, hopefully learning from the season-ending adversity.

For much of the national sports media to overlook him is an indictment of the same people who made him the Heisman winner last season. Jackson is inevitably going to be much better, folks, with the sophomoritis behind him. He’s got it all now — speed, experience and, most of all, with extra motivation, thanks to the second guessers.

For Lamar Jackson, a Heisman Trophy is secondary to winning games (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Jackson may not come close to the touchdown production he had last season — 20 rushing, 30 passing. He’s going to be depending more heavily on some of his talent teammates, at least according to Coach Bobby Petrino, noting that Jackson doesn’t have to do it all himself.

With a new offensive line coach in Mike Summers and more beef, talent and experience on that line, Jackson should have more time to read opposing defenses, go through the progressions, find open receivers and provide more opportunities for his running backs.

Oh, he will continue to be a major scoring threat. He’s still going to do more than his share of scoring. But Louisville has a chance to have much more balance on offense this time around. The offense will be anything but predictable, no more zeroing in on Lamar Jackson on every snap.

Reggie Bonnafon may finally be where he needs to be, having played quarterback, running back and wide receiver during his first three seasons at UofL. He’s the featured running back as the season begins, with a chance to finally live up to four-star billing coming to UofL. This is his senior year, and we think he gets it, it is now or never.

The stable of running backs also includes Jeremy Smith and Malik Williams. All three of them are capable of going the distance on any play or broken tackle. The fact that they are lining up with Lamar Jackson makes even more unpredictable.

Jaylen Smith and Seth Dawkins appear ready to pace the wide receiver corps, having impressed Petrino during the pre-season. “Both of them are catching the ball and getting open, and we’re able to do different things with them,” said Petrino.

Over on defense, there’s Jaire Alexander, a pre-season first team All America selection at cornerback, capable of breakout games on defense and kick returns. Linebackers James Hearns and Trevon Young will terrorize opposing quarterbacks. And there are four seniors on the defensive line.

Much to be enthused about on the eve of the 2017 season. Anything and everything is possible, ranging from a possible breakthrough for a conference championship to another collapse. An experienced team returning, having had  nine months to think about those three consecutive losses at the end of the last season. We don’t believe this team is going to allow that to happen again.

Whether Lamar Jackson wins another Heisman Trophy is the last thing on any of their minds.

Ties that bound Petrino and Brohms at loose ends now

No stepping on the brakes, it’s a freight train now, the season opener only six days away for the University of Louisville football team. Against Purdue University, the Brohm brothers and company.

Bobby Petrino wishes Jeff Brohm lots of luck, just not next Saturday (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Jeff, Brian and Greg Brohm all former UofL players, good ones, ambitious people, wanting to prove themselves on the sidelines, eager to make names for themselves, starting at the expense of their alma mater, possibly even envisioning a return to UofL some day.

Current UofL Coach Bobby Petrino noting in his press conference on Monday that all three of them, including Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm, were guests at the wedding of his daughter Katie over the summer. Along with Poppa and Momma Brohm. Strong between the Petrinos and the Brohms, almost two decades now.

Jeff Brohm is a Purude Boilermaker for now.

Jeff, of course, was an assistant to Petrino at at Western Kentucky before becoming head coach at WKU. Making his mark there, earning a Big 10 opportunity. He knows the Petrino system as well as anyone, having lived it at least 20 hours a day, 12 months a year.

“I’m excited for Jeff … but now he’s the enemy,” said Petrino smiling. adding that Brohm went through a rigorous process of contemplating a coaching career after his NFL career was over, the long days, all the travel, the ups and downs of recruiting, and all the other responsibilities. “He called me when I went to Western Kentucky and said he had decided he wanted to be a head coach,” he said. “I know he put a lot of thought into it, and I believe he will be successful.”

Jeff is one of four family members to be a football letterwinner at Louisville, along with his father, Oscar (quarterback 1966-69), and brothers, Greg (wide receiver 1989-92) and Brian (quarterback 2004-07).

Unfortunate, perhaps, that Brohm’s first game at Purdue has to come against Louisville. Or maybe not, since he knows Petrino’s system so well. Petrino is well aware of Brohm’s proclivity for unorthodox or trick plays, relying heavily on them for his success at Western Kentucky. Petrino expects more of the same Saturday at Indianapolis.

No more of this buddy, buddy stuff, however.

*   *   *

Lamar Jackson confidence grows with maturity and stronger offensive line (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Lamar Jackson is ready to put the off season behind him. He’s done with all the awards banquets, and the monotony of fall football camp . Ready for some football he is.  “I was ready after the first week of practice. I’m always ready to play football,” he said.

As for being left off pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate lists, “I don’t know. They don’t come to me and talk about it. I don’t really care. I just care about my teammates and winning games.”

As for his much maligned offensive line, “They’re eager to play. They were eager to play last year but I can see a difference now. They’re much more mature now, they’re stronger and can push defensive lines back.”

As for whether he himself is more mature, “Last year they would be bringing a blitz, I would try to use my arm and try to beat the blitz. Now I can change the play and go in a whole different direction.”

Adidas in good times and bad times for University of Louisville

One of the first big deals Tom Jurich made after becoming the new Athletic Director at the University of Louisville in 1997 was an agreement with Adidas. He was looking to cut costs while providing quality tennis shoes for UofL athletes.

“The deal was earth-shattering,”joked Jurich on Friday. “We would get two pair of shoes for retail, and the third pair was 20% off. Our first order was for 300 shoes, 200 at retail price, and a discount on the next 100. With that we were able to brand our partnership.”

Tom Jurich says UofL and Adidas have remained strong partners through good times and bad times.

UofL and Adidas have been together ever since, with Jurich having lost track of the number of times they have renegotiated new deals. The big difference, of course, is that UofL no longer buys the shoes, any uniforms or any other Adidas equipment or apparel. The company pays Louisville for the exposure.

On Friday, UofL and Adidas announced a 10-year extension of the partnership through 2027-28 valued at a phenomenal 160 million dollars.  The deal includes footwear, apparel, accessories and marketing support for all 23 of the University’s athletic programs.

“When we began our relationship with Adidas nearly 20 years ago, we weren’t in the same shape we are now,” said Jurich. “The impact they have had has been phenomenal. We’ve have great times and we’ve had down times, but they’ve already been there with us, standing shoulder to shoulder with UofL.

“I don’t necessarily care so about the finish as I am about how we got there and who’s with you when times are tough. Adidas has never wavered, they’re always been strong with us. And that’s the kind of company with which I want to be associated.”

Chris McGuire says Adidas employees around the world have become Louisville fans.

Chris McGuire, senior director of sports marketing at Adidas, confirmed that the deal with UofL was among the company’s biggest investments in sports in America.  “We love the success of all the programs here, and it’s something in which we take great pride,” he said. “When Louisville wins, the Adidas brand wins as well. We have become Louisville fans, and that includes our employees all around the world.”

Adidas’ involvement with UofL also includes support for the latest expansion of Cardinal Stadium. The company will have a significant presence in the end zone, with the Adidas Three Stripe Zone and branding in the tunnel from which the team will enter the field, starting in 2018.

Mark Hebert a persuasive voice for University of Louisville

“Giving students the tools to explore, to discover and create …”

That line from a recent University of Louisville video, delivered in a way that only Mark Hebert can convey, puts the University in perspective amidst all the challenges, per this YouTube take:

Mark Hebert was a UofL fan before he joined the University staff in 2009.

A former investigative reporter at WHAS-TV for 22 years, Hebert is director of media programming and production at UofL. Hebert was, in fact, one of the best investigative reporters in the region.  He was respected for his research skills and objectivity, and for allowing viewers to reach conclusions based on facts.

A graduate of Western Kentucky University where he majored in mass communications, Hebert was often seen at many UofL sports events before joining the staff. He made no secret of being a Louisville partisan, passing up media press credentials to sit with fellow Cardinals’ fans.

Hebert, who joined the University’s staff in 2009, produces a continuing flow of UofL videos on YouTube, updating the community on major developments. He also hosts a 30-minute news radio program, “U of L Today with Mark Hebert” airs on  “93.9 The Ville,” a member of the ESPN family of radio stations in Louisville.

The station also airs 90-second segments from U of L throughout the day, showcasing faculty and students alongside U of L commercials.

UofL is fortunate to have Mark Hebert as a spokesman, along with his high levels of credibility, talent and professionalism.

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.