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.

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.

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.

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.

Final touches being added to UofL’s new Academic Center for ExcellenceWill be ready for student athletes by the 2016 fall semester

The new Thornton’s Center for Academic Excellence at the University of Louisville appeared Monday to be on target to meet its deadline for completion.

The Center, located at the south end of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, is scheduled to be done by the end of May, enabling the academic and athletic advisors to get ready for the fall semester. Window man

The 40,000-square-foot center will feature tutorial areas, a high-performance training table to feed student athletes, computer laboratories, and office and classroom space that will serve over 750 athletes across 23 sports on a daily basis.

Several key contributors helped support the funding of this project. Thorntons made the lead $3 million gift to the project, and in conjunction with Cardinals’ fans, helped raise approximately $6 million to their matching gift.

A total of $2.5 million dollars was raised through the generosity and partnership with the iconic brand of Maker’s Mark, while Stites and Harbison demonstrated their belief in the academic mission of the athletic department by committing $2 million to the project.

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in February 2015, followed by the beginning of actual construction the following May.

The project has gone smoothly, providing a model of efficiency for the next addition to PJCS.  That would be the 10,000-seat expansion expected to begin after the 2016 fall football season.