Following a season that saw him finish among the nation's top pass rushers, the goal for Louisville linebacker James Hearns climbs a little higher for his senior campaign.
As a junior, the Tallahassee, Fla., product registered 11 tackles for a loss and ranked 46th nationally with eight sacks. Proving to be a menace to opposing offenses in multiple ways, Hearns also forced five fumbles, the second-highest total in school history and the third most across the country.
A starter in all 12 regular season games, Hearns was sidelined just prior to the Cardinals bowl game after being shot at an off-campus party. Following weeks of rehab, Hearns was there when the team begin spring practice last week.
"It was great to see James Hearns out there," U of L head coach Bobby Petrino said. "You could see him speed and explosiveness."
A top-ten finisher among ACC players in sacks and forced fumbles in 2016, the task for Hearns this spring is to further improve his ability to attack the offensive backfield to put himself is a position to become the best in the league.
"For him, the more experienced that you are sometimes the greater challenge is to come and play with great effort, so our challenge, my challenge to is can you be the best in the ACC in rushing the quarterback," Louisville's first-year defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon said. "You need to be the best."
The hope is that the challenge from the coaching staff will be the push to lift Hearns to that next level. His first few days left a positive impression with both Petrino and Sirmon reporting that the 6-foot-3, 244-pound linebacker had "good days."
"At some point, the longer you're here as a player you have to find what's going to make you come out and bust your ass everyday," Sirmon said. "Sometimes when you compete against yourself it's not enough. As competitors you need to chase after something and that's what we're going to put in front of him."
A former four-star prospect, Hearns has totaled 55 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
Louisville's spring practice will resume on Tuesday, Mar., 28, which will be the second of three open practices for fans to attend.