With nine starters returning last season’s top-25 defense, a true freshman cracking the starting lineup didn’t seem likely.

However, after nine days of camp, rookie Dorian Etheridge is the front-runner for one of the starting linebacker positions.

The Charleston, W.Va., native, Etheridge has been extremely impressive on the practice field.

“Dorian is someone I’m very excited about,” inside linebackers coach Cort Dennison said after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s very natural. He has great instincts and his knowledge of the game is advanced. He’s always in his notebook and continuously asks a lot of questions. He’s very mature and will only get better.”

Entering the system in June after graduation, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound linebacker, has advanced mentally and has picked up defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon’s scheme quickly.

“Anytime you have a freshman in the room, who is one of the most vocal ones, you understand he’s very advanced and has a knowledge of the game,” Dennison said. “He takes great pride in what he does, and he has a love for the game.”

An imposing figure with his size and speed, Etheridge will not be shown up physically. However, he has noticed a major difference in the mental aspect of the game, with all the different concepts and terminology.

“Physically, I know I can compete,” Etheridge said after his first interview as a collegiate football player. “However, mentally it’s taken a lot of time. There is just so much. I’ve learned more in one day than I learned during my entire high school career.”

Being heavily recruited out of Capital High, Etheridge had an idea that he could come in and compete like he has thus far, but it’s hard to imagine anyone thinking he could have this type of impact heading into the second week of practice.

“Everything I’ve accomplished so far I owe to my coaches,” Etheridge said. “We have a lot of great freshmen here. I’m enjoying it and just continuing to just work hard.”

Growing up in West Virginia, not many elite high school athletes leave the state, but Louisville is more than please that Etheridge snuck out of town.

“I fell in love with the school when I came here,” Etheridge said. “It’s a great school and they always have great defenses. Last year, the defense was great and I just wanted to be a part of it. Louisville was one of my later offers and I just feel in love with the coaching staff.”

After losing Keith Kelsey – the team’s top tackler last season — to graduation, the coaching staff is grateful that Etheridge, the two-time all-state performer, chose the Cardinals over a number of Power 5 offers.

“It’s definitely a grind,” Etheridge said. “Every day you have to give it you’re all, and that’s definitely what I’ve done. This is just the first week of camp, but we are still working to get better.”

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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