The 2012 season having ended with such a bang, and National Signing Day following just a month later, it's hard to imagine that we're not far from the opening of spring football in what should be one of the more successful years in Louisville football history. While everyone's attention is focused on the end of the college basketball regular season, the football team updated the roster and gave us our first look at how different things will look in 2013, the Cardinals' last in the Big East. There are some familiar names gone, some new names, a few position changes, and signs that this is now Charlie Strong's football team.
Who Is Gone?
As signing day approached, most knew that the recruiting class would be small because of the few number of seniors on last year's team. As the reported "room" in the class grew, it could only grow at the expense of last year's roster and the updated roster reflects it. Gone from last year's team are perennial reserves Titus Teague and Zed Evans. Evans is reportedly headed to play his final year of eligibility closer to home at North Texas. Defensive back Jordon Paschal is gone, as is Florida transfer Willie Bailey. The most surprising of the defections comes on offense where tight end Chris White, who played so well in the later part of the 2011 season, and fifth year senior Jeremy Wright. Wright was the team's second tailback with Senorise Perry for most of the season and was the team's leading rusher in the Sugar Bowl win over Florida.
Wright has his degree and will be eligible to play anywhere right away. With him gone, Louisville will have Corvin Lamb, Dominique Brown (who redshirted this season), redshirt freshman Brandon Radcliff, and Senorise Perry, who is recovering from a knee injury suffered against Syracuse.
There are also a few new arrivals. Junior college quarterback Brett Nelson and freshman defensive lineman Finesse Middleton signed and enrolled in January. Both will participate in spring practice. With Will Gardner still recovering from his second knee injury, Nelson probably enters spring as the backup and if you follow him on Twitter, he's declared his desire to learn the playbook better than the Bible, so that's a good start, right? Middleton, a former Ole Miss commit, is short for a defensive lineman (5'11) so I'll be interested in seeing if they still try to keep him at end or try to fatten him up a bit in a redshirt season and let him be a quick, three-technique tackle. There are also a ton of walk-ons that are new to the roster.
The Final Kragthorpe Class
The 2013 season will be the final one with scholarship players signed by Steve Kragthorpe on it. To their credit, a number of these guys have stuck around and should be contributors next year. On offense, Damian Copeland was one of the team's most reliable receivers last year. Kamran Joyer is said to be the replacement for Mario Benavides at center. On defense, Roy Philon, George Durant, Hakeem Smith, and Champ Lee return for their final seasons as well.
This will be the first season with four-year seniors signed by Charlie Strong. To his credit, most of them have been early and consistent contributors in each of his first three years. Senorise Perry, Jarrett Davis, Ryan Hubbell (a JUCO senior), BJ Butler, Marcus Smith, Brandon Dunn, Preston Brown, and Deon Rogers will play their final years of eligibility next year.
As has been reported elsewhere, touted, but troubled, players Zeke Pike, Charles Gaines, and BJ Dubose are all on next year's roster and if they stay out of trouble, should contribute. Pike was a highly rated quarterback out of high school, but the Louisville coaches always wanted him at tight end and at 6'6, 230, he's certainly got the body for it. Gaines and Dubose have both played at times and looked good when they have. Their return to the good graces of the coaching staff will add to the depth at defensive end and receiver.
If the positions are set in stone, it looks like Jalen Harrington is going back to linebacker from tight end, where he played in the second half of last season and caught a pass in the Sugar Bowl. It would make sense, given the depth now available at tight end with Gerald Christian being eligible to play this season. The other guy that changed to offense at the end of last year, BJ Butler, looks like he'll stick at fullback. So Louisville, when it does go to the I-formation and power running game, will trot out the athletic Butler at fullback, all 268 pounds of him.
Reserve receiver Kai Dominguez is now listed on the roster as "Kai De La Cruz", so next year, remember that's him when he makes you freak out while he fields a punt.