“I can’t wait to get started. I’m counting the days,” he said. “I can’t wait for Aug. 2 to get here so we can get on the green grass.”
Of course, it will be the first season at U of L for Kragthorpe, the former Tulsa head coach whose Cards are considered a top-15 team in virtually all the preseason polls. Has it been hard for him to get the Cards to buy in to his new system?
“I don’t’ think so. I haven’t felt that at all,” said Kragthorpe (pictured left). “I think the guys were excited about the change in terms of doing something different. Let’s face it, youngsters in that 18-to-22 age group are probably a lot more adaptable than those of us in our 40s. As you get a little older, you get a little more set in your ways. They’ve been great. They’ve accepted our staff and the things we’re doing, and I think they’re excited about what lies ahead.”
What is on the horizon is a chance for U of L to def/files/storyimages/its Big East title and make a return trip to a BCS bowl game, following up on last year’s 12-1 record and Orange Bowl title. Such high expectations have greeted Kragthorpe since he accepted the Louisville job on Jan. 9 and replaced Bobby Petrino, who moved on to coach the Atlanta Falcons.
“It’s great. I want to be at a place with this level of expectations, especially when that’s accompanied by the kinds of things our athletic director (Tom Jurich) has been doing to help us be a good program,” he said. “Tom is the main reason I came here. While there are high expectations from the outside, that’s nothing like those we have on the inside of the building among coaches and players.”
Although it’s just Louisville’s third season in the Big East, the Cards are picked to battle for the league title because their roster is filled with proven returnees.
“Certainly people are talking about the big three in the Big East – West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers – and South Florida has been playing well. But the experts shouldn’t discount the other four teams in this league (Pitt, Cincinnati, Syracuse and Connecticut). I think the parity and depth in the Big East is pretty good.”
One of the prime reasons for optimism in the U of L camp is the fact that all-star quarterback Brian Brohm decided to pass on the NFL Draft and return to campus for his senior season.
“As much as Louisville has been on TV, I had seen Brian play a lot of football. But I had never had a chance to meet him,” said Kragthorpe. “He’s just a great person – a phenomenal leader, a guy who leads by example. He’s one of the hardest working guys on our team both on the field, in the film room and in the meeting room.”
Even before he plays his final collegiate season, Brohm ranks fourth on the school’s all-time career passing list with 6,751 yards, and he has thrown 41 touchdowns. ESPN talent guru Mel Kiper projects him as the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft.
“Brian has a great game, there’s no question about it,” said Kragthorpe. “Not only does he have the physical tools to play the position at the NFL level, but he also has the mental tools. He’s thick-skinned, he’s extremely intelligent, he understands preparation, he’s a coach’s kid and he’s been around it his whole life. He’s been groomed to be in this position by his family, although some guys with that background don’t always run when they come out of the gate. This guy comes out of the gate and he’s always smokin’. He really seems to enjoy the mental aspect of the game, and that’s what will make him a great NFL quarterback because the pro game is obviously more complex than it is at this level.”
LOOKING FOR AN EDGE – Its extensive slate of weeknight games should give Louisville a slight edge in three of its games this fall. Because the Cards play Middle Tennessee on Thursday, Sept. 6, they will have an extra two days to rest and prepare for their game with rival Kentucky on Sept. 15. U of L will have an extra day to get ready for Cincinnati because of a Friday night contest with Utah, and Louisville will have two extra days after the West Virginia game to get set for its Nov. 17 game at South Florida where the Cards have never won.
CARDS IN TITLE GAME – Former Louisville Cardinal players Will Rabatin and Jason Hilliard will help lead the Columbus Destroyers against the San Jose SaberCats in Arena Bowl XXI in New Orleans this Sunday. Last Saturday, sixth-seeded Columbus won its fourth consecutive road game with a 66-56 decision over Georgia. “We have the best offensive line in the league, hands down,” said Destroyers quarterback Matt Nagy. Rabatin was a standout at St. Xavier High School in Louisville, and Hilliard is a graduate of Jeffersonville (Ind.) High.
NOTE: Daily columnist Ron Steiner also appears on the Red & Blue Review, a weekly statewide TV sports show (Insight Ch. 2). He’s also published weekly in the Voice-Tribune and is a guest each Friday (5:45 p.m.) on the Cardinal Insider radio program (WKRD, 790AM). He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]