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. 

Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium expansion has begun

Editor’s Note: The following has been edited to include updated information on Messer Construction.

Most University of Louisville football fans are still attempting to recover from those two bitter losses at the end of the regular season. A disappointing end to what at times held the promise being the best season ever.

The hangover is a natural reaction to some dashed expectations and is only temporarily. Despite the trainwreck at the end, UofL football was in contention for a college football playoff spot for much of the season. Close to competing for a national championship. Sooner or later, fans will draw strength from that fact.

Messer Construction's command center has been set up outside Gate 9.
Messer Construction’s command center has been set up outside Gate 9.

That’s why Tom Jurich is moving ahead with the $55 million expansion plans for Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, which will include an additional 10,000 seats, including 1,000 club seats, 70 premium boxes and 12 exclusive field-level suites.

Construction crews have already been doing preliminary work on the lawn of the football complex just outside the stadium. Security fencing has been installed, some trees and shrubbery have been removed, and several holes have been dug, apparently for preliminary electrical work.

Coming to your stadium in August 2018.
Coming to your stadium in August 2018.

A Louisville-based unit of Messer Construction, which built the Thornton’s Academic Center for Excellence, has set up a command facility just outside Gate 9 on North side of the stadium.

Messer Construction also is involved in a major expansion of Audubon Hospital on Poplar Level Road, the Old Forester Distillery on Main Street, and Thornton’s new corporate headquarters on Old Henry Road.

Sports Information Director Kenny Klein confirmed that the crews began work on Monday, as Jurich had promised back in June when he announced an expected completion date of August 6, 2018. That would be about three weeks before the regular season home opener against Notre Dame.

Klein said the crews are doing preliminary preparatory work. “It will be a while before the heavy cranes arrive,” he said. “But, yes, the stadium expansion project is underway.”

Jackson fumble leads to another Louisville stumble

Was it just a couple of weeks ago that the University of Louisville football team was considered a serious contender for the 2016 college football playoffs? Reality took a while to catch up, shattering any and all illusions or disillusions.  

Kirk Herbstreit, of ESPN, had UofL listed third in his rankings back then, saying on air that he believed the Cardinals were capable of beating top-ranked Alabama. There were lots of people who agreed with him, including those who made Louisville third in the Associated Press poll.

Another rocky day for Lamar Jackson in the season finale (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Another rocky day for Lamar Jackson in the season finale (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Quarterback Lamar Jackson, like his University of Louisville football team, is looking all too fallible these days. Either he’s not as good as was once considered or most teams have figured out how to slow him down considerably.

Two weeks ago, Jackson was considered a virtual shew-in for Heisman Trophy honors, the “lock of all locks,” considered by Las Vegas to be a 1-50 favorite for college football’s most coveted award.  He was at that point considered all but invincible.

The outlook changed dramatically when Louisville fell victim to Houston in a devastating 36-10 loss, exposing all of UofL’s weaknesses, knocking the Cardinals out of any serious discussion about the nation’s best football teams this season.

Jackson a mere shadow of his national perception in the loss, managing to make only 20 of 43 passes while rushing for only 33 yards. His team would register only one touchdown while Jackson was getting sacked 11 times.

Just when one couldn’t imagine things getting any worse, things did get worse on Saturday. Louisville was knocked off by arch-rival Kentucky 41-38 before a crowd of 54,075 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

When he wasn’t scorching UK’s defense, Jackson was keeping the Wildcats in the game. He would have three costly interceptions and would cough up the ball in the final minute that would lead to the winning field goal.

UofL’s slumping performance in recent weeks, along with Jackson’s problems, may have an impact on the Heisman race. The national sports media, being what it is, thrives on creating drama when none may actually exist.

The Heisman Trophy is generally associated with winners and national contenders, with an individual player usually receiving a lot of credit for his team’s success. Louisville is free fall now, no longer in contention, plummeting in the polls. 

Jackson has not done himself any favors in the past two games, making many Heisman voters scratch their heads, looking for possible reasons to reconsider their votes.

Louisville football should know better against Kentucky

Las Vegas figured out several weeks ago that this University of Louisville football team is not quite what it appeared to be when the Cardinals tore Florida State a new one in that 63-20 runaway in the third game of the season.

Probably dawned on the oddsmakers in the first half of the game against Clemson, with UofL falling behind 28-10. Eleven penalties for 104 yards for the Cardinals in that game, along with five sacks, an interception and a couple of fumbles. 

Vegas continued to make UofL a decisive favorite in ensuing games, making the Cardinals a 30-point favorite over Duke. Louisville was saved by a missed field goal in that game, making it painstakingly obvious that UofL was lucky to eke out a 10-point win. Similar grinders followed against Virginia and Wake Forest.

Bobby Petrino eyeing sixth straight for UofL over Kentucky (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Bobby Petrino eyeing sixth straight for UofL over Kentucky (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

So excuse us if we wonder about the acumen of the same Las Vegas oddsmakers in making Louisville a 24.5-point favorite over Kentucky this weekend. At this point in the season, it is insane to give UofL that much of an edge, especially after the humiliating loss to Houston exposed more weaknesses.

This particular group of UofL players has already proven they will relax, taking lightly-regarded opponents for granted when considered overwhelming favorites. They hear their fans lifting them up, putting down their opponents. Not to worry.

That’s usually followed by mistakes coming out of the gate, turnovers and false starts, guaranteeing the Cardinals will struggle to survive. In fact, that’s been the pattern with opponents this season, but over the past two seasons in games against UK.

This year the Wildcats bring two 1,000-yard rushers to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, along with a mobile quarterback, and a couple of decent receivers. Equally important they hate Louisville and will be highly motivated, seeking to end a five-game losing streak.

Louisville has not seen running backs this season as powerful as Boom Williams and Benny Snell. Williams is averaging 7.1 yards per carry and Snell is right on his heels with 6 yards per carry. Jo Jo Kemp, a third running back, is averaging 5 yards per carry.

Have no doubt that UK will come armed a keep-Lamar Jackson-off-the-field game plan. All the bluster about how weak the Kentucky defense will be exposed as just that if Jackson gets off to another slow start. It would, in fact, be UofL’s worst nightmare.

Las Vegas should know no better by now.  UofL players and fans should know not to take Vegas seriously by now.