I have often thought that a great indicator of the strength and size of a fan base is by the amount of interest shown in recruiting. For fans of the University of Louisville, following recruiting is nothing new. For decades Cardinal fans have followed basketball recruiting passionately. Many could provide information such as weight, height, scoring average and every other piece of detail about the majority of roundball prospects that U of L appeared to be recruiting.
Over the past few seasons, partially fueled by local football prospects Michael Bush and Brian Brohm, the interest in how the Cardinals are faring on the football recruiting paths has risen considerably.
That interest has never been higher and followed with such passion as it is this year. The reasons are obvious. The multiple appearances on ESPN's networks, a final 11-1 record, Conference USA and Liberty Bowl Champions and the end of season ranking of 6th in The Associated Press poll have all attributed to the growing interest in Louisville football. However, for those that aren't following the efforts of Coach Petrino and staff on the recruiting trail, you are missing another reason that fan interest is beginning to resemble that of more traditional football schools.
This recruiting period has seen Louisville target some of the top players throughout the country and find success more than ever before. This time it wasn't just the high profiled players from the River City that seriously considered and eventually signed to play at U of L. The Cardinals coaching staff has found success in the usual areas such as Florida, Georgia and Alabama, but they've also successfully ventured into New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Louisville football has risen to the point that when a player receives a call from Coach Petrino he takes the time to listen.
Never more so than now has Howard's Schnellenberger's dream of a National Championship at Louisville been closer to reality than it is today.
The football recruiting season has entered into it's final week, as the countdown to National Signing Day begins. On February 3rd, University of Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino will welcome the newest members of the Cardinal football family.
However as the clock creeps ever so closer to zero's and the 2005 U of L recruiting class seemingly full, the speculation of what may be the decision from a couple remaining undecided prospects continues to rise.
Don Bosco (NJ) Prep's Brian Roche, rated as the 25th best offensive lineman prospect in the country by Scout.com, visited Louisville in December and has continually listed U of L as a favorite.
On January 26th, following his official visit to Florida, the 6-foot-5, 280-pound Roche named the Cardinals, along with the Gators, as his favorite. However, I learned late last night that Roche had all but eliminated Florida from his list. If that is the case, then all signs point to what I suggested in last week's Blog. It's going to be Louisville or Notre Dame for Roche. Me personally? I think it will be Louisville on signing day.
Due to a Sunday evening commitment at home, Roche started his official visit with Notre Dame on Thursday, receiving one-on-one attention from new Notre Dame head coach and current New England Patriots coordinator Charlie Weis.
As should be expected, Notre Dame will very likely attempt to gain a verbal commitment from Roche before he leaves South Bend. If he returns to New Jersey on Sunday still undecided I would have to belief that the odds for Coach Petrino landing the 4-star prospect at Louisville sway heavily into his direction.
The past few NFL Super Bowl's, as well as this years game, has also likely had a strong positive effect on recruiting top players at U of L. This year will mark the third straight year that a Cardinal football alum has not only played in the Super Bowl, but won. Former Cardinal kicker David Akers and former receiver Deion Branch play for the Eagles and Patriots respectively. Roman Oben received a ring for starting along the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line two seasons ago. Defensive lineman Ted Washington also played for the Patriots in last year's game.
Their presence in the sport's top game displays to prospects that they can acheive their goal of playing in the NFL by coming to Louisville and that it doesn't matter the position.
Is it just me or has senior Larry O'Bannon somewhat flown under the radar until the Cardinals 99-52 pounding of Marquette in Freedom Hall on Wednesday? O'Bannon not only scored 30 points, but he also handed out 7 assists, grabbed 5 rebounds and recorded 2 steals. Mind you, he did all of that in just 27 minutes.
However, until the Cardinals claimed their 17th victory of the season, the majority of the talk circled the other headlines surrounding the basketball program. The injury bug was a frequent topic, as was the development of the reserves and freshman starter Tello Palacios. While everyone shared their opinions on those topics, O'Bannon, a product of Louisville's Male High School, was putting together a stellar season.
Prior to the game against Marquette, O'Bannon was the team's second-leading scorer at 14 points a game. However, with such an offensive explosion on national television, O'Bannon has just become the latest Cardinal that opposing coaches have to worry about finding a way to stop. That's a good thing for Coach Rick Pitino and fans alike.
Who has the better offense, Petrino or Pitino?
Coach Bobby Petrino's explosive offense has been well documented and witnessed by millions. The team finished the 2004 season as the nation's top offense, averaging 539-yards an outing. The football Cards also led the country in scoring offense and pass efficiency.
Well, don't look now, but Coach Rick Pitino has his basketball team putting up similar types of offensive numbers. The hardwood version of the Cardinals currently lead the country in scoring margain, outdoing their opponents by an average of nearly 28 points. They also find themselves 5th in the nation in scoring offense and three-point baskets made.
It's a fine time to be a Cardinal fan!
Nothing To Hide
I also like the approach of Bobby Petrino's staff of not hiding things such as the obvious presence of sophomore-to-be Brian Brohm to quarterback prospects that they recruited.
I'm sure that school's recruiting against U of L for a quarterback told player's that there is no way that they will see the field as long as Brohm puts on a Cardinal helmet. Louisville responds by having Brohm host Lee Sweeney, a record-setting quarterback from Lebanon, Tenn., who would verbally commit to U of L during his visit.
A similar situation occurred when Kentucky's Mr. Football Curtis Pulley visited U of L a weekend ago. Speculation was that Petrino would tell Pulley, who excels at both quarterback and safety, that he would be a quarterback at Louisville in an attempt to get him to commit. Fan's of an opposing school were claiming that is exactly what Petrino told Michael Bush just to get him to sign, when in reality he never had any intention of playing Bush at quarterback.
Well, during his time visiting U of L, Pulley was hosted by none other than Michael Bush. If Pulley had any such concern, Petrino game him ample time to question Bush about it. I suspect that Pulley would likely be an offensive threat should he de-commit from Kentucky to sign with Louisville. There are just some players who are too dangerous with the ball in their hand to ignore and basically force coaches to play them on offense. I believe that Pulley is such a talent.
Another week and another example that Louisville football is now recruiting on a new level surfaces.
The Birmingham News reports that 6-foot-7, 268-pound offensive lineman William Thompson committed to Louisville, but discovered that there no longer was room for him.
Thompson has since verbally committed to play for UAB.
Commitments on the Rise
U of L commit Earl Heyman has seen his Scout.com prospect rating rapidly climb over the past few weeks. Prior to his playing in the U.S. Army All-American game Heyman was rated as a solid 3-star prospect. Heyman has now risen to the 4-star level and is now listed as the country's 8th best defensive end prospect.
Heyman isn't alone in his climb.
Prior to the start of his senior season U of L pledge Darius Mann was nowhere to be found among the Scout.com ratings. After a very solid senior season, which eventually led to over 20 scholarship offers, Mann is now listed by Scout.com as the 44th best safety in the nation.
Signing Day Reminder
While the media will spend time with Coach Petrino on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. to learn about the players that signed Letters of Intent to play at Louisville, the fans can experience the same at 4:00 p.m. inside the Brown & Williamson Club at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
University of Louisville head football coach Bobby Petrino will discuss the 2005 recruiting class at a Signing Day Party on Wednesday, February 2 from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. in the Brown and Williamson Club.
Cardinal fans are invited to join the Cardinal football program to get a glimpse of the 2005 signing day class. Petrino and the rest of the Cardinal assistant coaches will discuss each signee and show video of each recruit.
Admission is free to the event and there will be concessions available.