Mauldin healthy and ready for the Gators

University of Louisville sophomore defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin wasn't sure he would play again this season after suffering a knee injury against Cincinnati. But Mauldin not only got back onto the field but will be one of the key players for Louisville's defense in next week's Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

Lorenzo Mauldin was helped off the field during the University of Louisville's game against Cincinnati and feared for the worst.

The sophomore defensive end said he was in "so much pain" as medical personnel carted him into the locker room with a left knee injury.

"I did get down a lot," Mauldin said, noting his spirits changed when he was told a few days after the injury that it was just a sprain.

The 6-foot-4, 245-poiund Mauldin missed two games before returning to action for the Cardinals against Connecticut. He's become a key figure for the Louisville defense and leads the Cardinals in sacks with 4.5.

Now, Mauldin said he's 100 percent and ready to help the U of L defense against Florida in the Jan. 2 Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

"I pretty much talked to the coaches and they uplifted me, along with the trainers, and I worked hard in the training room to get back," Mauldin said. "I wanted to make sure I got back on the field for my team this season.

"When they told me I could play against Connecticut, it was great but I still catered to my knee (on the field) a little. Now, it's 100 percent and it feels great. I can go 100 miles per hour now, instead of 50."

Mauldin, who played tight end and special teams for much of his freshman season before switching to defense, has 22 tackles on the season. He has 6.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

"He has done very well for us this season," defensive line coach Clint Hurtt said. "We really missed him when he was out. He just brings so much to our team with his effort, his talents and his enthusiasm.

"He's a passionate kid and plays with unbelievable effort."

Mauldin, a former South Carolina signee, has overcome a lot of adversity in his life. He's lived in as many as 16 foster homes during his younger days.

But he found a home at Louisville.

And on the defensive side of the ball. Mauldin played mostly special teams and a few snaps at tight end as a freshman until the coaches moved him to defense. He ended up with two starts and had six tackles that season.

Mauldin came into this season with higher expectations and played well early in the season, recording four tackles against Missouri State and two tackles in road games against Florida International and Southern Mississippi.

But then he has his two best career games, recording five stops, including 1.5 sacks, against Pittsburgh and then six tackles – including three tackles for a loss and two sacks – and a fumble recovery against South Florida.

"Before I got hurt, I was progressing," Mauldin said. "I didn't have that defensive mindset yet last year because I played mostly tight end. Going into the season, I was pretty average but I felt like I was getting a lot better.

"I started getting sacks and was really coming around."

Mauldin had two hurries in the Cincinnati game before late in the first half he was injured. The TV replay looked bad, but Mauldin was "just glad I could get back on the field and help my team."

In limited action against UConn, Mauldin had a tackle for a loss and then had one tackle also in the Rutgers game.

"He is learning and has made huge strides," Hurtt said. "He brings a lot to the defense. He needs to be out there for his psyche and for us as a defense. He is an emotional kid, there is nothing wrong with that because you are emotional when you put everything you have into something and that's what he does.

"When he came back, you could see the energy in the room come up."

Mauldin said he's excited to be fully ready to go for the Sugar Bowl.

"I still have a million miles to go, like coach Hurtt says," Mauldin said. "I have a lot to learn still, but it's a good start."

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