By the time their career ends, we feel like UofL basketball players are part of our family. As a result, senior days are extremely emotional for all involved. Football senior days are different. The simple explanation is that it's a lot harder to get to know and love football players than basketball players. The football uniform, by design, literally masks the face of players. The way the game is played obscures and subsumes individual activity into a whirl of 22 giant humans moving at cross-purposes. Basketball players' faces and individual contributions are evident to even the most casual fans.
If I saw Gerald Christian on campus, I'm not sure I would recognize him. Same with BJ Dubose (who the woman behind me at games actually said, outloud, during the NC State game, is he new?), Grant Donovan or Chris Acosta. I honestly have no idea what James Burgess looks like without a helmet and a trail of flames behind him. I went to the BC game and during halftime was walking around underneath, saw a tall guy wearing UofL stuff. He saw me wearing red, smiled and said "Go Cards" and I said "Go Cards....Mario!" because somewhere deep in my brain something clicked and I was like, I'm pretty sure that's Mario Urrutia. Considering my documented obsession with Mario Urrutia (more on that link, one of my favorite posts I've written (double parenthetical humble brag), later), the amount of time it took to recognize him compared to how much time it would have taken to recognize, say, Brandon Jenkins, who was at UofL at the same time, was startling.
Social media has helped get to know players more, but still, there's a distance with all but a handful of college football players who are recognizable to the average fan. Many of these guys fall into the same categories: quarterbacks, ESPN-focus, local heroes. So as I started this post, I wanted to only talk about DeVante Parker and Lorenzo Mauldin. But then I pulled up the lineup and started thinking about all of the seniors and potential early exit guys, and it's like, wow there's a lot going on here. It's impossible to go through and talk about every player and his impact on the program, and I don't want to leave anyone out. Football is really, really hard, and playing football at this level requires more work and sacrifice than it's fair to ask of people considering the costs. College football as an institution is really, really dumb (maybe more on this later in a longer post about my travels this fall, if I ever get around to writing it all up) and one of the ways its really dumb is that so much money is made by so many people on the backs of so many faceless, nameless players who don't really get out of it what they get in. But let's not get off-topic.
Each of these groups and individuals have impacted UofL football in positive, immeasurable ways that simply saying thanks doesn't do justice. College football changed more from 2009-2014 than almost any other period of time, and the difference between where we might be without these guys by any measure - national perception and cold hard cash granted by rights - is enormous.
So on this weekend of Thanksgiving, let's all give thanks to each player on the team, from the guys who don't play to the guys we are going to miss at the same level of Teddy and Siva and Bush and Brohm and Luke. Thanks for all your hard work, thanks for all your effort, thanks for everything you have given to the fans and this program. We, in all meanings of the phrase, can never repay you. But as best we can, we can mention specific things we are thankful for from each player, in the form of our best memories of
1. Class of 2010: The Two Most Important Commits In UofL History, and the Program Builders
There are 2 guys who may be playing (or have already played) their last games as UofL Cardinals who committed in 2009. Think about that! Those two guys happen to be the most important commits in UofL history, with the possible exception of Brian Brohm and Michael Bush. Corvin Lamb and Michalee Harris both committed right after Charlie Strong was hired, and both have had careers worsened by injury. But without those guys, do we get their high school teammate Teddy Bridgewater? There's no way to know, but Teddy definitely talked about Corvin being at UofL as something that mattered. And that's not to say that those two and those two alone brought Teddy here. But, as we say, it all matters. That 2010 class also included Jake Smith, Chris Acosta and Dominique Brown.
Michaelee Harris (#2 WR) - Coming back again and again and scoring a TD against Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl
Corvin Lamb (#4 WR/KR) - The Miami kickoff TD return
Dominque Brown (#10 RB) - Wanting the damn ball in the biggest games, running hard, the WVU 4th down conversion in 2011
Jake Smith (#53 OL) - Anchoring the line, being a spokesman for the team
Chris Acosta (#71 OL) - Coming back when we needed you
Matt Milton (#86 WR) - Taking advantage of your opportunities, too few and far between
BJ Dubose (#11 DL) - A dominant senior season along the DL
Gerald Christian (#18 TE) - Being pretty awesome and catching every ball thrown his way
2. The True Seniors - Four Years Is Not Enough
Jamon Brown and John Miller (OL) - Four years of quality line play, protecting Teddy and anchoring the line
Eli Rogers (#6 WR) - The most dependable wide receiver and kick returner who is not afraid to go over the middle, the South Florida catch in 2012, the WVU catches in 2011, pretty much just everything Eli has done.
Andrew Johnson (#15 CB) - Fan favorite, playing more as a true freshman than as a senior because he was needed, the pass break-up against UNC, blowing kisses at WVU's cheerleaders, tweeting about smashing them blueberries, keeping Gerod Holliman in red and black
Michael Dyer (#5 RB) - Making the most of this opportunity
Deiontrez Mount (#48 LB) - Doesn't get enough credit for his role in the defense and how well he has played all four seasons. One of my favorites.
Terrell Floyd (#19 CB) - Has played hurt this season and gets thrown at because people are afraid to throw at Gaines. But Floyd is one of our most important players and has been a solid tackler and coverage guy all four seasons, playing as a true freshman and starting for the last 3 seasons. Here's one of my favorite stats in the "Life/Football is Weird" categories: Floyd had three interceptions in 2012: two of them on the opponent's last play of the game, one of them on the opponent's first play of the game, and two of them on consecutive snaps....that happened to be five weeks apart. Yup, Floyd had an INT in OT of the Cinci game, had the game-clinching INT in the Rutgers game, had the pick-6 in the Sugar Bowl, and, oh ya, is the guy who caused the fumble on the Rutgers kick off that Teddy threw to Vante on the next play for the go-ahead TD. Everyone back the f off Terrell Floyd. He's awesome.
Just think about how improbable that game was. Not just Teddy on 1 leg and 1 good wrist somehow not getting blitzed by 8 guys every play, not just huge turnovers by Rutgers, not just the illegal man downfield on the fake punt, not just Rutgers scoring on two huge plays and nothing else. It still all came down to this throw on the miscommunication that somehow Floyd saw, tracked down, caught and got his hands under the ball. Still one of the prettiest images I've ever seen. Has any other UofL player made any play remotely like this since you've been watching UofL football? Beautiful.
3. Take the Money And Run
One thing I gave up on a few years ago was caring about or trying to predict professional success of UofL players (other than notable exceptions, see below; see also Teddy), and even moreso one thing I've tried to do is refrain from hoping/predicting/wishing/having any sense that I knew what was in a kid's best interest in terms of going pro or not. That said, with the current state of football, if any of these guys have any shot at getting paid real money for the foreseeable future to play football then they should take the money and run, er, hit. If any two out of these three guys come back next season, our defense should be freaking awesome.
James Burgess (#13 LB) - All he does is make big plays, including huge hits and interceptions not many linebackers could make. Big hitter, big play guy. Will be missed, should get a lot more attention than he does.
It feels so weird to celebrate plays like this. Football is not sustainable. How can we let kids participate in this for no money while lots of people get rich?
Charles Gaines (#2 CB) - People started throwing his way in the later part of the season and has still only spent not a ton of time at corner, but with speed and ball skills, has been a difference maker.
Gerod Holliman (#8 S) - Biggest surprise of the season always had elite talent, but finally got his shot and has taken advantage. The knock on him is his tackling which to me is weird - he had always stood out as being a big hitter. If he's trying to protect himself so that he can leave, get drafted and get paid, well, I can understand that.
4. Lorenzo Mauldin
The emotional leader of this team, he's the kind of player and person that make us love this program and this game. If you are reading this far, you know most everything about Lozo. Almost singlehandedly responsible for the smooth transition from Charlie Strong to Bobby Petrino. Not sure there's anyone I've wanted to see succeed at the next level like him, more so than Teddy, DeVante, Bush, Brohm, Art (okay maybe not Art), anyone. Deserve ain't got nothing to do with college football, but Lozo deserves success. Regardless of football success, no question he will have life success and be connected to the program for a long time.
5. DeVante Parker
Here's what I said about Parker way back when in the old "BKAC" series before the 2011 season:
I warn you, this might get weird. If anyone has the potential to be a Mario-type player, it's DeVante. From his size (6'3") to his speed to his leaping ability to his local-boy-makes-good hometown connection, I haven't been this excited about a football commit in awhile. He wanted to be a Cardinal early, committing in December 2009, soon after Charlie Strong was hired, and never wavered. I vaguely remember feeling sick when I heard he was visiting UK, but I don't think anything ever really came of it. Parker will see the field right away and Mike Sanford singled him (and Rogers) out as guys who could contribute as freshman.
And then he went and caught a TD pass in the Murray State opener. And kept on catching TDs. "THROW THE BALL TO DEVANTE PARKER" we kept saying during 2011, and 2012, and 2013. One thing I wrote in that post is that it's hard to understand how a wide receiver can take over a game, but watching the difference in our team the last 5 games from the first 6, well, you know impact players when you see them. DeVante Parker is so, so, so good and we will miss him on the field so, so, so, so much next season.
Watching what the NFL draft process did to Teddy's reputation was awful, and UofL fans took it personally, almost like Teddy was our own child. I imagine if Vante starts dropping and analysts start talking about his "lack of passion" or "poor route running" or "lack of competition", UofL fans will make #FSUTwitter look as reasonable and low key as Eisenhower's golfing buddies.
We get two more games to watch DeVante look like the older brother dominating after his little brother's practice, two more games to watch Lozo's dreads go boom, two more games to watch Eli Rogers go over the middle, Christian manhandle LBs, Dom Brown get 2 yards that we really need, Floyd knock down a pass or make a tough open field look easy.
It's not anywhere near as easy to show our appreciation for football players as basketball players, and the amount of work they go relative to the benefits is difficult on the conscience sometime. "College football" as a thing is so dumb, but we love college football because of these kids and the sense that even if we've never played a down or put on pads or been in the weight room, we are part of something special.
Thank you to all the UofL football players who are playing their last game inside Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium.