In the world that is college football recruiting there is a natural ebb and flow that occurs as a process that takes place over several years, and is accompanied by so many variables that can affect momentum both positively and negatively at any moment.
Louisville football fans are aware of what the perfect combination of recruiting and coaching can do. They have seen the peaks provided by Petrino as he was able to keep the program stocked with talented players, and the valleys as Kragthorpe filled the program with JUCOs and questionable prospects who were “rough” but far from “diamonds”. Needless to say the last few years for Louisville’s football program have shown what overall stability and leadership can do for recruiting and in turn success on and off the field.
Charlie Strong and staff have worked hard to restock the once barren cupboard which has gone a long way in restoring stability for the Cardinals. Entering the fourth season under Strong Louisville now has depth and experience at every position. Louisville has four scholarship quarterbacks, one of the deepest receiving corps in the nation, and almost the entire two-deep on defense returning. Being proficient in recruiting also allows for programs to deal with injury, early draftees, and anything else that may lead to a step back and while they haven’t reeled in a top ten class yet, Louisville’s staff has gone out and brought in talented players that fit both the needs and character that all great programs require to sustain success.
Coming off of the Sugar Bowl victory over Florida along with the move to the ACC in 2014, Louisville expected to see recruiting soar to new heights. There was a great deal of excitement for the Cardinals to land not just one James Quick in 2014 but a handful of players of his caliber and higher. Then in the spring Louisville fans learned that defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt who helped Louisville secure commitments from stars like Teddy Bridgewater and Eli Rogers (earning Hurtt the honors of recruiter of the year by ESPN) would be taking a leave of absence to deal with his legal issues stemming from his days at Miami. For any other program this would have been a major blow and possibly set back all of the momentum gained. But Louisville has done just the opposite and used this as an opportunity to give more responsibility to other coaches and recruit different areas which could also pay dividends in the future.
Of Louisville’s 22 commitments to date, Clint Hurtt was the lead recruiter for only two (Marques Gayot and Michael Johnson), both of which appear to be looking around. Being that it is only July though and seven months from signing day there will still be many changes in the way this class looks, as has happened every year under Strong. High School prospects often commit early only to change their mind, but as a whole Strong and staff have met their needs in each class and usually end the class with a few significant late pickups (See Mauldin and Hearns). This year has shown the resilience and depth of the staff as they have been able to secure 22 commitments before the summer is even over. This allows for Louisville to concentrate efforts on so called “bigger fish” and not have to worry about scrambling to fill out the class, while at the same time knowing some kids will come and go along the way.
The assistants most responsible for the success of this class are wide receivers’ coach Ron Dugans and defensive backs’ coach Tommy Restivo. The pair have been the lead recruiter for 13 of Louisville’s 22 commits, seven and six respectively. Not only have the two been able to secure commitments from solid players in the absence of Hurtt, but they have also allowed Louisville to tap into some recruiting hot beds that the Cardinals have not pursued as aggressively in the past. The Cardinals have seven commitments from the talent rich state of Ohio, five of which (Scott,Shaw,McCray,Burns,Crum, and most recently Ramsey) were headed by Restivo. The other two are standout defensive back prospect Nilijah Ballew and tight-end Devin Pike , who were recruited by Shawn Watson. While Restivo has helped Louisville’s success in Ohio, Dugans has allowed the Cardinals to experience success in a state very familiar to Cards fans, Florida. Only this time the success is not in southern Florida, but the north and panhandle areas in places like Jacksonville and Tallahassee. Louisville was able to land talented players from northern Florida in the 2013 class with Donel Elam, De’Asian Richardson, and recent signee James Hearns all being recruited to Louisville by Ron Dugans. This year he is taking his recruiting to a whole new level and Louisville fans should take notice, because even though things are still up in the air with Coach Hurtt, Louisville recruiting is taking a back seat to no one anytime soon and the strength of the staff Strong has assembled is the main reason for that.
With signing day not for another seven months we have a long way to go, but this class is off to an incredible start and I look forward to seeing and discussing how it unfolds with my fellow card fans, but in the mean time, just sit back and enjoy the ride because we are experiencing something truly special as a program and university.
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