Lamar Jackson’s greatness differs from another Louisville legend

There probably has never been a more humble candidate for the Heisman Trophy than Lamar Jackson, representing the University of Louisville in the voting for college football’s most outstanding player in 2016.

Jackson is as soft spoken as they come, unassuming, unassertive, somewhat reluctant to accept all the praise coming his way, giving any credit for his accomplishments to his teammates. He genuinely seems surprised that the sports media is making such a fuss over him.

Lamar Jackson prefers wins over individual awards (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Lamar Jackson prefers wins over individual awards (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

“I just go out there and play and try to win games and have fun with the team,” he said during a Monday evening press conference. The UofL sophomore indicated that he was surprised at being named a finalist for the Heisman award.

This  despite becoming the first player in Division I history to gain 1,500 yards rushing and 3,300 yards passing in a single season. Only the sixth player to ever post 20 rushing touchdowns and 20 passing touchdowns in a single season.

Jackson has achieved greatness in a year when the community of Louisville bade farewell to Muhammad Ali, one of the most recognized faces in the world. Ali was loved and respected in spite of his brashness, his arrogant speech and braggadocious personality.

Jackson is, without question, the polar opposite of Muhammad Ali, quietly going about his business. The UofL sophomore has the college football world focusing on him and Louisville football like never before in the history of the program. 

Jackson is not a natural when it comes to public speaking. He would rather be anywhere else instead of in front of a microphone. He is so reticent to speak that the result that he mumbles his remarks, often making his words almost incomprehensible.

There have been many great athletes at the University of Louisville, among them Darrell Griffith who led UofL to its first national basketball championship in 1980. Griffith was considered a Louisville legend long before his cut down the net in Indianapolis.

Jackson, regardless of his low key approach, may have already achieved the status of another “living legend” at UofL. He may well win the Heisman Trophy this weekend in New York, and may even contend for the award again next season.

But for Lamar Jackson, it’s pretty obvious that team honors come first with him. Even more apparent that Jackson will consider next season a failure if UofL is not a serious contender for the college football playoffs and a national championship.

If Bobby Petrino can assemble a support cast to protect him and take full advantage of his exceptional skills, Jackson’s senior year could be very special. The Heisman Trophy is nice, but it’s a distant second to what Jackson wants to accomplish at UofL. 

Louisville football approaches another crossroads

Another one of those “biggest games in University of Louisville football history” coming up Saturday. If UofL wins, there will be several more monster games this season, each bigger that the last.

The Cardinals are facing a Herculean challenge this weekend, facing a fifth-ranked Clemson team that has won 18 games in a row at home. The official capacity of Memorial Stadium is 81,500 but the stadium can accommodate close to 90,000 for a major showdown.

Why is Bobby Petrino smiling?
Why is Bobby Petrino smiling? (Cindy Rice Shelton photo)

This game means everything to Clemson which came within five points of winning a national championship last season. The Tigers know what to expect, they will be highly motivated, and probably playing in front of a record crowd. They will be confident, charged up and expecting to win.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, once considered the hands-down favorite for Heisman Trophy, has something to prove, having been overshadowed by UofL’s Lamar Jackson during the first four games. Watson been in the national spotlight many times, and it’s proving time, he’s ready for his moment.

The time for wishful thinking, the coulda, woulda, and shouldas, are hopefully in the past.

The Cardinals rank first in scoring offense (63.9 points per game) and total offense (with 682 yards per game). Clemson, however, ranks among the top 10 in scoring defense (11.0 points), passing defense (125 yards) and is allowing only 92.7 yard rushing per game.

Louisville is currently ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press poll for the second week in a row. The last time UofL was ranked that high was in the poll following a Thursday night win over West Virginia at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in 2006. The Cardinals weren’t there long, losing a nailbiter the following week at Rutgers.

As much as this game means for Clemson, it means so much more to the University of Louisville. The media frenzy surrounding UofL will become even more insane if the Cardinals beat Clemson, starting out 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, with wins against two teams ranked among the top five in the country.

Ten years between top five rankings is a long time, both times under Bobby Petrino’s leadership. An affirmation of Tom Jurich’s belief that Petrino is one of the best football coaches in the nation. UofL fans have seen a lot of ups and downs, not wanting to gamble on another decade.

Pardon us if we seem to be more than a little anxious about actually beating Clemson. Hard to act like one has been there before when we haven’t been there before.

The time for wishful thinking, coulda, woulda, and shoulda are hopefully in the past. The future is front of us. This Saturday at Clemson.

LSU job open again, but Bobby Petrino ‘not interested’

Bobby Petrino flattered but he has a better job at Louisville.
Bobby Petrino not wasting any time addressing LSU job vacancy this time around.

Bobby Petrino addressed the coaching vacancy at LSU at his first opportunity, the Monday afternoon press conference for University of Louisville football:

“I’m not interested in going anywhere. I’m very fortunate to be the head coach here at the University of Louisville, very happy about that, very glad I have the support of our athletic director Tom Jurich. We were able to sit down last year and do a new contract. We’re going to expand the stadium. We’re coming off one of the greatest crowds and Card Marches I’ve been around (at the Florida State game). We feel like we’ve got everything going in the right direction.

LSU officials reportedly considered Petrino the last time the job was vacant.

“This is the job I want. This is where I’m going to be.

Continue reading “LSU job open again, but Bobby Petrino ‘not interested’”

Petrino says Louisville football more than ready

“Game week. Finally got here.”

Coach Bobby Petrino spoke for a lot of people, declaring the long wait nearly over, the long hot summer for members of the University of Louisville football team finally behind them.

“It’s been a good pre-season. I like the way our guys work. I like the way our coaches have been coaching. It’s fun to see the new staff members and their personalities coming out. It’s been really good.”

Yeah, Bobby Petrino is ready (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Yeah, Bobby Petrino is ready (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

An entirely new outlook from a year ago when the program was still struggling to find a quarterback in a nationally-televised game against Auburn in Atlanta.

A team full of first-time starters took its lumps early, losing its first three games before winning eight of its last 10 games, including a signature win over Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl.

So much different this time around. “A year ago everything was new to them, what we did on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,” he said. “These guys have been through that numerous times and that should help us in getting prepared.”

Petrino wants to see his team “come out and execute, do their jobs, do what they are asked to do, work their technique and fundamentals, and play with great effort play in and play out. I want to see guys with effort habit, playing hard on every play.”

The coach also wants to choose the option of receiving the ball on the opening kickoff every game if possible. “One of the hardest things I ever had to do was tell our guy last season that if we win the toss, we’ll defer until the second half,” he said, noting that he never wants to do that again.

It’s obviously difficult for Petrino to contain his excitement when asked about the progress quarterback Lamar Jackson has made during the off-season. “He’s had a good camp. He’s harder on himself now. He expects more from himself, as far as his drops, his sets, his accuracy. That’s really fun to see.”

With a stronger, more experienced offensive line, Petrino is expecting more from running backs Brandon Radcliff, L.D. Scott and Jeremy Wright, as well as from freshman Malik Staples whom Petrino described as “a home run hitter, capable of going the distance on any play.”

Petrino chomping at the bit, eager to get started.

Bobby Petrino likes Louisville football’s offensive line

Offensive linemen rarely get mentioned unless they’re getting blamed for lack of a running game. Not the case on the first day of football practice at the University of Louisville.

“I do like the young offensive line group,” said Coach Bobby Petrino. “We’ve got some of the young guys who have the size and the athletic ability that we need. ”

The likely starters include Geron Christian, Tobijah Hughley, Kiola Mahoni and Lukayus McNeil.  They took some lumps before getting their collective act together last season. Petrino has slowly added depth, with more than half dozen backups standing 6-foot-3 or better and averaging over 300 pounds.

Running back Brandon Radcliff likes what he sees, too, having often struggled at times to find running room with immobile offensive lines.

“They are more experienced,” Radcliff said. “They are scholars of the game. They are studying the game and learning the offense. I saw a lot of improvement out there today and I’m looking forward to watching this group continue to progress.”

Quarterback Lamar Jackson will like them even better.