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.”

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.

Brendan McKay joins Lamar Jackson among nation’s elite athletes

The awards keep coming for Brendan McKay, the undisputed player of the year in college baseball.

The University of Louisville is the first school ever to have student athletes to win both of the top individual awards in college football and baseball. 

Brendan McKay on Friday became the 31st recipient of the prestigious Dick Howser Trophy, presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate baseball player.  He joins Lamar Jackson in some very select company, Jackson having been awarded the Heisman Trophy for the country’s best football player.

The Dick Howser Trophy was awarded Friday by the Howser Trophy committee and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association during ceremonies at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, home of the College World Series.

The latest honor is the fifth national player of the year  for McKay, who received the same honor from Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball newspaper, D1Baseball and Perfect Game. He also earned his third straight John Olerud Two-Way National Player of the Year Award and became the highest MLB Draft selection in school history going fourth overall to the Tampa Bay Rays.

He is also a leading candidate for the The Golden Spikes Award award, created by USA Baseball and sponsored by the Major League Baseball Players Association for best player honors.

McKay has a 10-3 record with a 2.34 ERA and a school record 140 strikeouts in 104.0 innings on the mound this season. During his three-year collegiate career, McKay has accumulated a 31-10 record with a 2.15 ERA and 385 strikeouts, the most ever for a Louisville pitcher.

At the plate, the 2017 ACC Player of the Year has a .343 batting average, 17 home runs, 13 doubles, 56 RBIs and a .464 on-base percentage in 60 starts as a hitter this season. In 179 career starts and 186 total appearances as a hitter, McKay has a .328 career batting average with 27 home runs, 46 doubles and 131 RBIs.

Those stats could be even more impressive with a good run in the College World Series.

Super Heisman Man: Louisville’s Lamar Jackson

Hey, Lamar Jackson.

There. Did it. Broke out of the gate early, made America take notice, put University of Louisville football squarely in the national spotlight. Nailed down honor after coveted honor, separated yourself as America’s  best college football player in 2016.

No doubt, not even close.

Play after play, on the ground, through the air, touchdown after touchdown, week after week. Setting new standards for athleticism, so often, so consistently. Considered his norm notching three, four or five touchdowns game after game.

Lamar Jackson winner of the Heisman Trophy winner for the 2016 college football season.  Racking up 3,390 passing yards, 1,538 rushing yards, with an astonishing 4,928 yards and 51 touchdowns. Leading UofL to a 9-3 won-lost record.

Louisville has had many great football players. Among them Johnny Unitas, Lenny Lyles, Deion Branch, Brian Brohm, Elvis Dumervil, Howard Stevens, Walter Peacock … So many names on the flight deck at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

But only one of them ever considered a serious contender for football’s most prestigious award — the Heisman trophy destined to stand alongside the Walter Camp and Maxwell Player of the Year awards on the Jackson family trophy wall.

Lamar Jackson bringing unprecedented attention to University of Louisville football, rewarding the faithful for long-standing loyalty. One of the most outstanding performances in the history of any sport.

Lamar Jackson himself, his fans, his detractors, his teammates, the opposition — everyone knowing he could have done much better. God willing, absorbing the lessons, getting better, setting even higher standards next year.

Hopefully blowing the doors off the hinges next season, having only just begun.

Photos courtesy of Cindy Rice Shelton.

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.