Jake Smith switches focus from football to legal career

Jake Smith got a shot at professional football with the Cincinnati Bengals after graduating from the University of Louisville in 2015.  Fun experience but it didn’t work out and he’s back in town, having readjusted his focus.

Jake Smith back at PJCS.
Jake Smith back at PJCS.

The native of Jacksonville, Alabama has re-enrolled at UofL and is pursuing a career in the legal profession. He’s splitting his time between classes at the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law and counseling student athletes at the new Thornton’s Center for Academic Excellence.

Jake was a four-year starter on UofL’s offensive line, moving from center to offensive guard during his senior year. He was also a member of the ACC’s all-academic team.

Smith spent a summer with the Cincinnati Bengals during the NFL pre-season after graduation. He didn’t make the squad but the Bengals asked him to stay in shape in case a roster player became injured. Jake decided he wanted to move on with his life.

“The time I spent with the Cincinnati Bengals was a great experience,” he said. “Being with the professional players I watched from the stands and on television was a dream come true. I was proud to say I did it.”

He was somewhat disappointed, of course, but recognized that few student athletes get a chance to play football with a major college football program and even fewer ever don a professional football uniform.

Smith said without hesitation the most exciting game at UofL was the opening home game against the University of Miami in 2014. A sellout crowd of 55,438 fans was on hand and the Card March for Coach Bobby Petrino’s first game back at Louisville was a mob scene. UofL won that game, 31-13.

“Running out of the tunnel before a home game, with all the fireworks, the smoke, the fans, and the blaring music was an amazing experience,” he said. “PJCS is a great place to play.”

Jake will have his hands full pursuing a law degree and helping tutor other students for the next couple of years. But he intends to enjoy every minute of his time back at UofL. “I’m really looking forward to working with student athletes in the new academic center,” he said.

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Louisville’s academic center for athletes raises the bar

Marvin Mitchell visited numerous academic centers across the nation in recent years, anticipating the day when the new Thornton’s Center for Academic Excellence would open at the University of Louisville.

Marvin Mitchell gives Center an A-plus.
Marvin Mitchell gives Center an A-plus.

Mitchell, senior associate athletic director for student services and diversity, was strongly encouraged by his boss Tom Jurich to return with the best ideas, add them to his own and incorporate them into the plan.

The culmination of his efforts arrived Wednesday and Mitchell is confident that he will be overseeing the best-equipped athletic academic center in the country. “This is a huge deal, for these kids to have this kind of space, you have no idea,” he said. “We have worked hard to make this one of the premier programs in the country for academic success.”

In addition to enhancing academics, Mitchell believes the new center will be a valuable recruiting tool. “We want parents who accompany recruits on their visits and after talking with our academic staff to say ‘we’re coming’ before they see the football facility or the basketball court. We want to seal the deal with academics.”

AC - AuditoriumNow in his 15th year at UofL, Mitchell has oversight of academic services, student services, continuing eligibility and student-athlete programming. Academic success for student-athletes has flourished, with the cumulative average of Louisville athletes exceeding 3.0 for 10 straight semesters.

The brightly-lit 43,000-square-foot facility contains numerous variations and combination of study and leisure space, including private study space and larger space for groups.

A massive artistic video wall greets visitors upon entry in the Republic Bank Atrium.  A 204-seat auditorium is equipped with a high definition 18.5 feet by 10.5 feet screen. A cafeteria will make it easy for the athletes to adhere to training table requirements. An Adidas lounge is provided for breaks between tutoring and studies.AC - Cafeteria 2

“It may be the finest facility that we’ve built and certainly one of the most important projects we’ve taken on during my time at Louisville,” said Jurich.

Here’s a video tour hosted by Kyle Bolin:

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Bill Olsen made football survival and growth his priority at UofL

Good to see Bill Olsen again at the recent Crawford Gym reunion for former University of Louisville basketball players. He was a former player himself and an assistant to Denny Crum, but his most lasting contribution may have been to the UofL football program.

Bill Olsen created foundation for Louisville football.
Bill Olsen created foundation for Louisville football.

Among the highlights during his tenure as Athletic Director from 1981 to 1997 was the hiring of Howard Schnellenberger, who would serve as head football coach for a decade and thrash Alabama in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl.

Olsen would also launch the effort to obtain an on-campus stadium for the football program, convincing local banker Malcolm Chancey to head the fundraising campaign. More than 4,000 fans pledged nearly $15 million for lifetime seating rights in the initial phase of the stadium fundraising effort in May of 1993.

These were followed by major gifts from Papa John’s, Brown & Williamson Tobacco, the Brown Foundation, Anheuser Busch, Bank One, Kiel Brothers Oil Inc./BP, and United Parcel Service. Significant contributions also came from McDonald’s, Pepsi Cola, Dr. Ben Reid, Kentucky Kingdom and the City of Louisville and Jefferson County. The only assistance from the state came in the form of a land swap for adjacent acreage.

His primary challenge upon accepting the post was just keeping football viable.  The basketball program was at its zenith, having captured national championships in 1980 and 1986. When he became AD, football tickets sold for $3 each. Attendance was about 15,000 per game.  His goal was to amp up the football program in a big way.

“The only games we ever made money were those against Western Kentucky, and we didn’t play them every year,” he says. “We were facing some significant challenges.”

Birth of Tailgating at UofL

He recalled that Tommy Carroll, former president of the University of Louisville Associates, conceived the idea of tailgating. A marketing committee was created by Charlie Herd, of the Chamber of Commerce. Among the members were Maury Buchart, then Vice President of Marketing at the Courier-Journal, Bob Goetz, also of the CJ, and Mike Brown, of Pepsi.

“The marketing committee suggested that we start promoting the tailgating concept, making them social events as well,” said Olsen. “Many other schools were tailgating but we had just never done it.”

The committee urged Chamber businesses to get involved. Among them was WHAS Radio. Wayne Perkey, Milton Metz and other station celebrities manned a tailgating area, selling sandwiches and cold drinks for 84 cents. U of L also encouraged the cheerleaders and Lady Birds to mingle with crowd and got the band to march through the crowd around old Fairgrounds Stadium. Many groups of friends and families quickly gravitated to the idea of food fests, and it ballooned from there.

“We also put up billboards,” he says. “The images on the first billboard consisted only of a leaf falling on a football. The theme was ‘Six Super Saturdays.’ We stayed away from the inferior product on the field and focused on the atmosphere surrounding the game.”

“Tailgating just continued to grow. People loved it. Some of them enjoyed it so much they never went into the stadium for the game. We became one of the best tailgating schools in the country.”

Football attendance had grown to between 28,000 – 30,000 in the years when Olsen retired in 1997, providing a foundation for even more phenomenal growth under Tom Jurich, his predecessor.

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Tommy Carroll, Sr.
Tommy Carroll, Sr.

Tommy Carroll, mentioned above, passed away this week at the age of 93. He was a member of the UofL Athletic Hall of Fame, having played football, baseball and track. He was also honored with the Hickman-Camp Award for his support and volunteerism.

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UofL football schedule posters hit stores

The University of Louisville football schedule posters are available beginning Thursday, with three different versions available at more than 50 area locations in Louisville and Southern Indiana.

Poster 3
Watch for them at Rally’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Raising Canes restaurants along with Commonwealth Credit Union locations and Academy Sports while supplies last.

 Each poster displays a group of key returners from last season’s team which won eight of its final 10 games.  The posters include:

The first poster features L=linebacker Keith Kelsey, safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, defensive tackle DeAngelo Brown, and linebacker Devonte Fields.

The second:  Tight ends Cole Hikutini and Keith Towbridge, and wide receivers James Quick and Jamari Staples.

The third: Defensive lineman Drew Bailey, linebacker Stacy Thomas, offensive lineman Tobijah Hughley, and sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Tickets mailed, posters out, season getting close.

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Cardinal Caravan gives way to Summer Festival

Cardinal Caravan has apparently gone the way of the Cardinals Summer Festival. Nobody will be able to tell the difference.

University of Louisville coaches, student-athletes, spirit groups and athletic staff members will interact with UofL fans Tuesday, Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. at Captain’s Quarters Riverside Grille.

Football schedule posters and fall sports schedule cards will be provided. 

The free event will include raffle prizes, playground inflatables for children, photo opportunities, additional games, and a question and answer session featuring multiple UofL head coaches.   

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