One kid can’t wait for the new Louisville football era

Editor’s Note:  Paul Sykes, guest columnist, moderator of Cardinal Couple and an old friend, weighs in on UofL’s upcoming first football season in the ACC.

Remember that gift Tom Jurich delivered just before Christmas a couple of years ago? Almost time to open it.

A ticket to a UofL home football game this season is the equivalent of a trip to Disney World, a winning lottery entry, the exacta on the Kentucky Derby and the keys to a brand new car.

A new conference, new travel venues and the most challenging schedule in the history of Louisville football creating a fever pitch for those who don the red and black and hang on every rushing attempt, third and two defensive stop and lofty pass to the corner of the end zone.

 If one treasures the excitement of packing up the SUV and hitting the road to follow the gridiron action, how about scenic Virginia, the crazy game day atmosphere of Clemson, historic South Bend, Indiana, the hustle and bustle of Boston, the echo-chambered Carrier Dome in Syracuse and sunny Miami for away games?

 Coming to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium is a group of traditional powerhouses, old rivals and dangerous ACC foes. Florida State, the defending national champion, and Miaim, with multiple national titles, new conference foes NC State and Wake Forest, good old Murray State, and our Kentucky friends from Lexington.

 Plus, a first-ever chance for Petrino and the Cards to play in a conference championship game, with the winner securing one of the major post-season bowl berths.

 Cardinal fans are no strangers to big games at PJCS. Who could forget the win over West Virginia on a blackout night in November 2006? Taking Miami to the woodshed in September of that same year. A soggy, spectacular win over Florida State in 2002? This season presenting similar challenges and more.

 A three month journey that will rival any three month stretch in the history of University of Louisville athletics.

 Yes, Louisville has hit the jackpot. The Cards are at the adult dining table and have seats in the front row of a sold out performance. Super Saturdays of tailgating, exciting gridiron action, feeling the shivers when the crowd roars during a Dom Brown scamper for the end zone, a chilling Ray Burgess, Jr. stop, a Will Gardner toss to a wide open Devante Parker or Lorenzo Mauldin catching and sacking a terrified opposing quarterback.

 Black uniforms, blackout crowds, blocks, backs, breakaways and booms.

Hurry, September, hurry.

Louisville walk-on eager to prove himself

By Paul Sykes

Michael Stewart drew interest from several colleges as a high school player, including Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, Centre and others but he wanted to play football at the University of Louisville, taking a chance as a walk on.

Stewart, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound standout offensive lineman from Seneca, is joining U of L this fall as a preferred walk on, a player promised a roster spot who can earn a scholarship if one becomes available.

Coaches rave about his footwork and he also gets it done in the classroom with a 3.4 GPA. He also participated in the Kentucky State High School Boys Track and Field Finals in the shot put and discus.

“Big Mike” also played in the Greater Louisville Football Coaches Association the Best of the Bluegrass” All-Star game and was left guard for the Louisville team. Currently, he is conditioning and weight training on his own, ready to show his skills when fall practice begins.

“I’m excited about the opportunities that are available at Louisville and look forward to the chance to learn from and play for a great coaching staff,” he said.

Keep an eye out for Stewart on the sideline. We’ve got a feeling that he won’t be there long and will eventually be in the middle of the action.

Outside shots in the Kentucky Derby

By Paul Sykes

No fun betting favorites in the Kentucky Derby. They disappoint more often than not.

Animal Kingdom, last year’s winner, went off at 20-1 odds. Though this was his first race on dirt, the winner had an easy trip, paying $43.80, $19.60 and $13 for a $2 bet.

Here are a few “live” outside shots that could reward their backers:

Take Charge Indy (15-1) — Won the Florida Derby earlier this spring and gets the services of local legend Calvin Borel. Few know the track better than Calvin “Bo-rail” and this horse could be dangerous if Borel can get him to the rail to sweep by tiring horses down the stretch.

I’ll Have Another (12-1) — Got his nose up in time to win the Santa Anita Derby and is hoping the track stays fast and firm Saturday. If the rains come, he may finish last…but his tracking style and stamina suggest he can make the distance easily with “wunderkid” Mario Gutierrez aboard.

Went The Day Well (20-1) — Won the Spiral Stakes at northern Kentucky track Turfway where last year’s winner prepped. He also gets the services of last year’s winning jockey, John Velazquez. The reports from the backside at Churchill Downs are glowing and positive about how he’s ripping up the morning works and loving the surroundings.

Have a happy, safe and prosperous Derby Day. As the late Louisville Times sports columnist Mike Barry would say: “I hope to break even at the track today. I could use the money.”

Lady Cards on the tube

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Gong to have to make a choice at 5 o’clock Sunday, U of L or NFL.

An ESPN-2 game for Jeff Walz and his 15-4 University of Louisville women’s basketball team. The opponent is also 15-4, Georgetown in the McDonough Arena on the D.C. campus. A battle of top 20 teams, believe it or not, Louisville and Georgetown still in the lower tier.

The Lady Cards have been tweeting all weekend about Washington. Let’s hope they’re focused on the business at hand.

Not an easy matchup for Shoni Schimmel and crew. Georgetown a full-court, 40 minutes of press team. Leading scorer in the BIG EAST with junior guard Sugar Rodgers.

These two squads have a history. Ugly incident two years ago when a pre-game fight broke out after a tripping incident when the Lady Cards took the court. Taunting and pointing last year when the Hoyas erased an 11 point Louisville lead at halftime and won by 24 in the KFC YUM! Center.

Paul Sykes

Shelby Harper makes waves

by Paul Sykes

Shelby Harper is always ready on the bench, never knowing if her name will be called.

Lately, it hasn’t been often. Two minutes in the last two games. But when Jeff Walz called her number with 11 minutes left against South Florida on Wednesday, the 5-foot-4 junior responded with six points, six rebounds and a lock down defense on USF’s scoring machine.

Did I mention that U of L was behind by eight points when she entered the game? Over the next six minutes, the Lady Cards would outscore USF 15-0.

“I knew we needed to pick up our defense and stop them from scoring,” she shyly told the media after her team’s 63-57 win. “I feel like every day we’re in practice that defense is what leads us into our offense. If we’re having problems on offense, I know we need to pick up the defense. I knew when I went in there I had to pick everyone else up on defense.”

Roll back to Louisville clinging to a 58-52 lead with 2:10 remaining. Shelby comes in from the weak side and tries to cut in front of 6-foot-4 Caitlin Rowe. She is determined to block her out from the rebound and does the job.

“It’s hard to find players like her,” said Jeff Walz. “A lot of the kids feel entitled. If I could get my other ten players to work as hard as Shelby does and not be upset if they don’t get “X” amount of minutes per game…we would be really good.”

Shelby is 5-foot-4 on a good day. Ten feet tall in heart and desire.