These days, Coach Mike Summers is focused on developing the offensive line of the Atlanta Falcons. But the past four seasons, Summers, a former assistant coach at UK and the son-in-law of former Wildcat basketball coach Joe B. Hall, was focused on helping Bobby Petrino and the Cards prepare to defeat Kentucky.
Recently, Summers reflected on the series in a radio chat with Hall, and discussed several players who will be key factors when U of L and UK meet on Sept. 15, the third contest of the season for both squads.
“As an offensive line coach, as that first game against Kentucky (2003) got closer, it was difficult for me to sleep at night. The previous year, U of L lost 22-17 and quarterback Dave Ragone was sacked over and over,” said Summers. “That build-up was an emotional frenzy for me. I had been there and worked with Coach (Fran) Curci, and to walk out into Commonwealth Stadium was very memorable. From our perspective, it was such an emotional lift and a big boost. It generated excitement for our players, and it was huge for the whole state.”
Summers believes that one of his former players, U of L center Eric Wood, will be pivotal to the Cards’ success in this year’s clash with the Cats, as he was throughout last year’s 12-1 season.
“Eric is a great story and a great person,” said Summers. “He was recruited out of state champion Cincinnati Elder High School where he played both tackle and tight end. He was about 6-5 and 255 pounds when he signed with us. We liked his intensity and his toughness, and we actually liked him more as a basketball player than a football player. You could see his quickness and toughness.”
The Louisville staff told Wood he would have to gain weight (up to 300) over time to catch up with the veterans who typified Petrino’s vision for having a huge front line. The young freshman tried to accelerate the process.
“That August, he showed up at camp weighing 308, and he looked like he had swallowed an entire turkey,” said Summers. “He had gone out and eaten as many donuts and whatever else he could find to get up over 300. We said, ‘Eric, this is not going to work.’”
Wood lost the excess weight, then rebuilt his body in the weight room. Now, at 6-4, 301, the junior is a prime nominee for the Rimington Award and other top national honors.
“Eric is a tremendous worker, a great football player, and he understands how to prepare himself to play college football,” said Summers. “He’s a weight room guy, a film study guy and a perfect leader for that football team.”
Wood is an exceptional bright student-athlete who should help ease the transition for new U of L head coach Steve Kragthorpe, who will retain much of the Petrino offense and add many of his own touches.
“It was such a help for me to have Eric in the lineup, because so much of what happens inside – the angles and the techniques - we can’t see from the sidelines,” Summers added. “When those guys would come off the field, Eric would be my eyes on the field, and he would tell me exactly what was happening with the defense. There are a lot of players who play their position well, but when they get to the sidelines they can’t tell you exactly what happened. He knew; he could visualize the situation and tell us what was going on out there.”
Summers also praised the talents of the two quarterbacks who will compete when U of L and UK meet this fall.
“I was very surprised and impressed with the development (Kentucky’s) Andre Woodson had last year,” he said. “Some people may have overlooked the fact that Randy Sanders came in as the new quarterback coach for him last year, and I think under Randy he really developed. Looking at him from a distance, I could see how Andre’s confidence grew – what he was looking at, what he was doing and how quickly he was able to get it to his receivers. Those things weren’t happening in the past. I think with his size, athletic ability and fundamentals, if his development continues, he’ll be one of the top quarterbacks in the country for the pros next year.”
What about Louisville’s Heisman Trophy candidate Brian Brohm?
“He’s an amazing football player,” said Summers. “He has such a professional approach to what he does, and he’s a no-nonsense guy when it comes to football. He has learned how to prepare from his brothers and his dad. Jeff has done a great job of teaching him the quarterback mentality. Brian’s father, Oscar, has given the focus and direction he needs to become that kind of player.
“The only unknown for Brian is his health, and if he can prepare himself and stay healthy for this season, I think there’s no doubt he’ll be the first player picked by the NFL next year,” said Summers. “I saw him over the last 3 1/2 years do some amazing things – playing injured and playing hurt. His toughness and ability to lead is a great benefit for a football team.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org .