Louisville wrapped up its second day of spring practice on Wednesday evening, working again for two hours inside Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. With a high percentage of its roster returning from a 8-5 campaign that was capped off with a win over Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl, including 18 starters, the pace and confidence level of the players is noticeably higher than 12 months ago.
"We're moving a lot faster this year, a lot earlier," said senior tight end Cole Hikutini. "Everyone's playing with confidence. We just have to get back into it, get used putting helmets back on, putting pads on and hitting and continue to do what we do."
For Hikutini, who came to Louisville following a season at both CC of San Fransisco and FCS program Sacramento State, a season of experience in Bobby Petrino's offense has him better prepared for his second spring practice as a Cardinal.
"I'm playing with a lot more confidence definitely knowing the system better," he said. "I just get to play football rather than trying to think, 'what do I have on this, what do I have on that,' I just go out there and play as fast as I can."
Slowing his development even more in 2015, Hikutini was sidelined midway through spring practice last year with a knee injury and then was slowed by a minor injury that forced him to miss a pair of early season games.
"God has a plan for everyone," he said. "I think it was just a test that I had to pass, to show that I could get through an injury twice in a year. I came back from both of them."
He appeared in 11 games last fall, starting three, becoming more of a threat in the passing game as the season continued. He finished his junior season by eclipsing the 100-yard mark in the bowl victory, completing the year with 19 receptions for 348 yards and three touchdowns.
This spring, he says his goals including winning a national championship and "remaining healthy" throughout his final year at U of L. Also included among his goals, making a run at the John Makey Award, an honor given annually to the nation's top tight end.
"I try not to think statistically, I just want to get the win," he said. "I don't really care about my stats. I'm mean, it would be nice to have a good statistical season. Every tight end's goal is win the Mackey. That's definitely that's my goal. Personally, that's my goal, but the bigger picture is more important, so I definitely want to try to help our team get to the national championship."