This week I just thought I would go with some thoughts about this time of year because, as a student-athlete, it was easily my favorite. The winter is on its way out, the temperature starts to rise, and it is a fun time to be a Louisville fan.
The football team is currently finishing up their winter workouts and getting ready for spring ball. Right now the majority of their minds are on what they have planned for spring break. When I played at Louisville there were not many days that you had for vacations. You would get a few days at Christmas, a week for spring break, a few weeks in May, and maybe a long weekend for the 4th of July. Other than that you were always involved in some capacity with school and football. So therefore, spring break is a hot topic. The week after spring break we would always have a mat drill (early morning conditioning) in which long snapper Dane Mattingly would make sure to let everyone know that we needed to get ready for spring break because it was only 364 days away.
I don't really have anything planned so I will just go with random thoughts I have or memories that I have from this time of the year.
The anticipation of spring ball.
For a lot of the starters this is the time to continue getting better and to solidify their jobs for the fall. For the younger guys that are battling for positions it is a fight to impress the coaches. Personally for me I always considered spring ball something I just had to get through injury free. As specialists we would be the first ones to start preparing for spring and getting our legs in shape. I would use spring to get as many reps as I could with my snapper and holder, and to focus on game situations. I would treat the scrimmages as if I was playing against West Virginia. I just didn’t want to lose that feel or those butterflies that I would always get before games.
The spring before my junior year I decided that I wanted to take my game to the next level, but didn’t know how. I had a good sophomore year, but felt I wasn’t tapping into my potential. One day I went to the Bass-Rudd Tennis Center to watch my friends who were on the tennis team play their matches. As I was sitting there minding my own business an older gentleman sat down next to me. Being polite I said hello and we started chatting about tennis and the mental approach these guys take. I was intrigued by everything this guy was saying when he told me that he was a psychologist that had done some specialization in sports psychology. He introduced himself as Stan Frager and said I could come by his office anytime to discuss how to be a better kicker. He had worked with David Akers, and had worked with Denny Crum and the championship teams in the 80’s.
I discussed this with my special teams coach and he gave me the approval to go. Dr. Frager didn’t change anything that I did; he just helped me refine my mental approach, and gave me some tips on how to mentally prepare for every possible situation. I would go on to win the Lou Groza Award the following season and credit a lot of that to him. He is one of my biggest supporters and one of the best men that I have ever met.
I have done a terrible job keeping in touch with him and want to use this forum to apologize to a great Cards fan. Thanks Dr. Frager for not only what you have done for me, but what you have done for countless Louisville athletes over the years.
The Big East and NCAA Tournaments are two of my favorite sporting events of the year. This talk would dominate our locker room for the month of March. Everyone on the football team thought they were experts when it came to college basketball. Guys would make lunch plans or dinner plans based on when Louisville was playing in the Big East Tournament. I have two favorite memories regarding watching Louisville basketball in March while I was a student.
1) The Elite Eight win over WVU in 2005. I was living in the Bettie Johnson Hall at the time and the place went nuts when the Cards pulled out the win. The next week we were supposed to have a scrimmage that afternoon but Coach Petrino postponed it and moved it to Monday so that we could enjoy having our basketball team in the Final Four.
2) Watching the Cards run in the 2008 tournament with my roommate Brian Brohm. It was a lot of fun until the UNC game. We watched from our house and we just sat there in silence as the clock ticked away, pissed at the loss, and disappointed for the guys on the team. We really wanted them to get to the Final Four.
The Louisville baseball season is underway and those who knew me in college knew that they could find me every weekend in the stands at Jim Patterson Stadium. Baseball is my favorite sport, and who doesn’t like $1 hot dogs and $1 beers (at least I hope they still sell those at the games). A lot of my best friends in college were baseball players. Chris Cates, Logan Johnson, Dan Burton, Zach Pitts, Boomer Whiting, and Blake Williams just to name a few. We would make our class schedules around our twice a week lunches at the Cardinal Inn. Here are a few memories from the Cardinal baseball team. I am sure I will have more in the future. Also, if you are in Louisville and haven’t been to a game, head out and enjoy the experience of college baseball. These guys are actually very good, and a lot of fun to watch.
--Chris Cates driving up in his car in our football parking lot to see if I wanted to grab some lunch with him. I said sure and hopped in his car. I noticed he had every possible piece of baseball equipment in the back of his car. I asked him why he had this and he said "Coach Prado kicked us out of the locker room, said we didn’t deserve to have such nice facilities. He told us to take everything out." I asked Chris "are you pissed about that?" Chris said "No, he is always doing this kind of stuff, I am sure he will forget it in about an hour. Want to go to Cardinal Inn?"
--Logan Johnson can kick. Logan wasn’t playing summer ball one year because he was rehabbing an injury he suffered during the season, and he offered me a deal that he would throw batting practice to me in the team cages if I would let him come kick with me in Papa John’s.
I agreed and it was awesome.
Logan worked with me on my baseball swing and then we played some epic games of P.I.G. (kicking equivalent to HORSE) at PJCS. He was a great high school kicker and really impressed me out on the field. At one point he had me down and I had to take him back to 55 plus yards to knock him out. He could consistently hit from 48 yards out. He could also tackle pretty hard as I found out after our WVU win in 2006. As I was celebrating with fans Logan slammed into me and tackled me to the ground.
--The win over Oklahoma State to advance to the College World Series. I had been working Urban Meyer’s kicking camp that weekend and flew back early so that I could make it to the deciding game. After knowing all of these guys when they were freshman it was an incredible experience to have them one win away from Omaha. To see them crush the Cowboys and their celebration was something that I will never forget.