SMALL CLASS LEAVES BIG LEGACY
The Allstate Sugar Bowl victory over Florida was the last time the seniors on the Cardinals' roster will be seen in uniform.
But those 10 players have left a lasting legacy.
While six of the 10 senior started their careers as walk-ons, the Class of 2013 started their careers with a 4-8 mark under former coach Steve Kragthorpe. But the small group stayed with the program and the coaching change, finishing 11-2 this season and making it to three straight bowl games.
"It's a small group but I think we have contributed just as much as any class," senior center Mario Benavides said. "We went through a lot together. This season means a lot more since we started our careers 4-8.
"There are not a lot of seniors, but the ones here are big contributors."
Benavides, wide receiver Andrell Smith and tight end Nate Nord are the only seniors who started as scholarship players, while defensive back Adrian Bushell transferred from Florida prior to his junior season.
Quarterback Will Stein, lineman Alex Kupper, wide receiver Scott Radcliff and fullbacks Nick Heuser and Bo Eggers all started as walk-one but ended their careers with scholarships and were major contributors.
"It just shows that with hard work, anything is possible," Kupper said. "There's not a lot of us, but a lot of guys that are in this class contributed."
Kupper started 26 straight games to end his career, while Benavides ended his career with 47 career starts, including 23 in a row.
DEALING WITH EXPECTATIONS
Louisville ended the season on a high note and has already generated a ton of positive publicity in early preseason polls.
The Cardinals have been ranked in every early preseason poll including the latest – CollegeFootballNews.com – where they checked in at No. 9.
U of L is guaranteed to generate more but the early indication is the players in the Cardinals' program will embrace the hype.
"We made a statement (in the Sugar Bowl)," tight end B.J. Butler said. "We just want to prove it again next year. But hopefully next season, we can come out and prove we're on a national championship level."
Added offensive lineman John Miller: "(The Florida win) put us in the national spotlight. It is going to get us more respect and that's what we all want."
But with high expectations also comes the need for a tougher work ethic and several players said that won't be a problem. The players have been tweeting and talking about morning runs and lifting in recent weeks.
"It's back to the grind," Jalen Harrington said. "(The Florida win) put our program on another pedestal. We have to work even harder now."
ANOTHER LOCAL STANDOUT
Some of the best teams in U of L history has key contributions from players that came from Louisville-area high school programs.
And this season was no different.
Ballard grad DeVante Parker led the team in receiving yards, while Trinity's Alex Kupper and Fern Creek's Jamon Brown started on the line.
There were several other players that played roles from area schools, including Pleasure Ridge Park defensive lineman Brandon Dunn. He finished the season as one of the top defensive linemen on the team.
Dunn finished with 28 tackles, including two sacks.
"(The season) was very special to me," Dunn said. "For us hometown kids, we understand what this all means to the city and how the city is behind us.
"(The Sugar Bowl win) was our present to the city. A lot of good hometown guys in the past have helped out and we had a lot this season."
FROSH LINEBACKER HAS SOLID SEASON
U of L had one freshman All-American linebacker – Keith Brown – and another who finished the season on a high note.
Freshman James Burgess Jr., missed four games with injuries but had 12 of his 27 tackles in the final four games of the season. He also ended with two interceptions and two tackles for a loss.
"This year was a big accomplishment for me as a freshman," Burgess said. "I have to work hard to make sure things get better."