A little more than a month ago, Louisville fans were talking about the 2014 recruiting class being its best ever. Charlie Strong and his staff had laid the groundwork for a solid recruiting class sure to be ranked in the top 25 in the nation.
The Cardinals closed out the 2013 season with a convincing 36 – 9 win over the Miami Hurricanes in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The win capped off a 12 – 1 season.
Things have surely changed since then. Strong and the majority of his staff headed to Texas. Quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, headed to the NFL on year early. Then Louisville brought Bobby Petrino back as its head coach.
Many questions would need to be answered heading in to the 2014 season. The most important question would be how this change would affect Louisville’s recruiting efforts. Could they hold on to most of Strong’s recruits? Which of the recruits did Petrino want? How would Petrino’s past mistakes affect his ability to recruit?
Petrino was put in a very difficult situation given the fact that he only had three weeks of recruiting until National Signing Day on Feb. 5. Not only did he have to recruit, but he had to build a coaching staff as well. The Cardinals were sure to lose some recruits, but just how many was the concern. At his signing day press conference Petrino said, “We were able to find the guys we wanted to put in place. It was really hard because we didn’t have much time to get to know our own team. We got together as a staff and watched the tape of last year’s games and tried to evaluate the guys we have coming back to know what our areas of need were.”
Petrino added to the challenges he faced in recruiting saying, “This recruiting process was different. It was really different. The extended dead period really hurt because we were only able to go out for three weeks. We weren’t able to use up all our visits, which has never happened to me before.”
Eleven of Charlie Strong’s commitments ended up signing elsewhere. Highly touted defensive tackle Poona Ford signed with Texas. George Rushing, a wide receiver from Florida, signed with Wisconsin. Nilijah Ballew, a 4-star safety from Ohio, signed with Bowling Green. With this many players going elsewhere the recruiting outlook was not looking good.
Signing day came and saw the Cardinals end up with a solid class ranked 45 by 247Sports.com, 45 by Scout.com, and 46 by Rivals.com. Not bad considering what they were up against.
Louisville addressed their needs on the offensive line by signing Kelby Johnson. Johnson, who is 6-foot -7 and 300 pounds, played his first two years in the ACC with Virginia. He spent his last year in Junior College. He provides the Cardinals with some experience on the line.
Lukayus McNeil, Jimmie Terry, and Danny Burns round out what could be the strongest part of Petrino’s first recruiting class. All three are already college-sized lineman. However, they will probably redshirt to get them prepared for the 2015 season. Louisville will lose a big portion of their offensive line after next season.
Reggie Bonnafon, 6-foot-3 quarterback from Trinity, honored his commitment by signing with the Cardinals. Bonnafon not only can throw the ball well, but he can make plays happen with this running ability.
Although the Cardinals did lose wide receiver George Rushing to Wisconsin, they did pick up a commitment from 4-star wide receiver, Cornelius Sturghill. In an irony of sorts, Sturghill had been committed to Wisconsin.
The Cardinals also picked up some important commitments on the defensive side of the ball. Sharieff Rhaheed, 4-star linebacker from Florida, signed with Louisville after originally being committed to LSU.
Petrino and his coaching staff are very high on safety Michael Johnson from Hialeah, Florida. Johnson Committed to Louisville nearly one year ago and honored his commitment after receiving serious interest from LSU and Nebraska. He is rated a 4-star recruit by ESPN.com.
Louisville ended up signing 21 players and according to Petrino are not finished recruiting for next season. “We’d like to add two or three guys to this class. We wanted to leave a couple spots open because we feel like there are going to be some guys available, and also because we’d like to have the option to make a midyear signing.” Petrino said.
As with any incoming class, only time will tell how good they will actually be. The silver lining in this class is the coach himself. Bobby Petrino has proven in the past that he can develop talent on both sides of the ball.
I have heard numerous fans worry about Louisville’s 2014 class. I have heard it lacks star power. I have also heard about the worries of losing so many of Charlie Strong’s recruit. I agree, it is hard to go from having one of the best classes in school history and then dropping over twenty spots in the rankings. However, I have full faith in the coaching ability of Petrino and the staff he has put together. The staff worked extremely hard in putting this class together in such a short window. All I can say is that this is only the beginning. Don’t worry Cardinal fans. Charlie Strong got the train rolling again and now Bobby Petrino will keep it going. You had better get on or get left behind. As for me, I am riding shotgun.