Before we take this trip down memory lane, let me preface this by saying that scouting services didn’t produce retrievable records until 2001. It’s certainly possible that Louisville recruits in the ‘90s or ‘50s could have been rated highly enough to appear on this list, but there’s no way to back that up. I used 247 Sports for this list because, quite simply, its data was the easiest to use.
So without further adieu, here are the 10 highest-rated recruits to ever sign on the dotted line with the University of Louisville.
10. C.J. Peake — 2007, 4-stars, No. 192 overall
It’s easy to argue that C.J. Peake was a victim of the Steve Kragthorpe era. For some reason, his redshirt was burned in 2007 so that he could play sparingly on special teams and finish the season with one tackle against Murray State. He left the team a year later after the coaching staff asked him to move from cornerback to linebacker. After spending 2008 away from football, Peake returned to Louisville in 2009, where he played sparingly at linebacker and on special teams. He finished the ‘09 season with three tackles.
Following the 2009 season, Peake transferred to California University of Pennsylvania, which is a real place.
9. Keith Brown — 2012, 4-stars, No. 167 overall
One of Charlie Strong’ most heralded recruits, Brown appeared poised for stardom at Louisville. He earned a starting spot right away as a true freshman in 2012, and played a large role on a Cardinal team that would win 11 games and stun third-ranked Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Injuries derailed Brown’s sophomore season, as he played in just three games and totaled just three tackles before a knee injury forced him to redshirt the rest of the season. Brown then struggled to find consistent playing time as a redshirt sophomore under new head coach Bobby Petrino in 2014, finishing the season with just 17 total tackles. The same was true a year later, as his playing time rose and fell throughout a season which saw him record no statistics in the Music City Bowl.
After making 113 tackles in 37 games for Louisville from 2012-2015, Brown chose to transfer to Western Kentucky for his final season. He had a stellar season for the Hilltoppers, starting all 14 games, making 130 tackles, recording six sacks and two interceptions.
8. Brandon Heath — 2006, 4-stars, No. 113 overall
Heath was one of the crown jewels of what, at the time, was the highest-rated recruiting class in the history of Louisville football. He was something of a tweener in college, where he was just a little too big to play safety but slightly undersized at outside linebacker. He still had a productive career, serving as a solid contributor for all four of his seasons with the red and black.
Heath’s best season at U of L was his last one, where he was asked to be one of the transitional leaders under first-year head coach Charlie Strong. Heath responded by producing career-highs in tackles (70), tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (3). He signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2011 draft, but never made an active roster in the NFL.
7. Earl Heyman — 2005, 4-stars, No. 111 overall
The middle of the 2000s was a golden era for Louisville high school football talent that would go on to play for U of L. With so much of that conversation revolving around Brian Brohm, Michael Bush and DeVante Parker, Earl Heyman often goes overlooked.
The 8th-ranked defensive tackle in the country coming out of Ballard High School in 2005, Heyman contributed at Louisville from day one. After starting for two of the best and then two of the most disappointing Cardinal teams of all-time, Heyman wrapped up his college career with 112 tackles, 8.5 sacks and one Interception.
After going undrafted in 2009, Heyman played two seasons with the New Orleans Saints, winning a Super Bowl ring with the organization in 2010. He then played briefly with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League and the Cleveland Gladiators before calling it a career in 2011.
Following the end of his football career, Heyman became a professional boxer. In 2012, he became the Heavyweight Golden Gloves Boxing Champion in the state of Indiana and also won the 2012 Ringside world championships in the heavyweight division.
Heyman’s younger brother, Dexter, would go on to be a star linebacker at Male High School before also playing four seasons at Louisville.
6. Teddy Bridgewater — 2011, 4-stars, No. 98 overall
It’s still wild to think that at the time, there were Louisville fans who didn’t think Charlie Strong should have recruited Bridgewater because he already had a commitment from highly-touted Seneca High School QB Damarcus Smith. Eventually, Smith would sign with Central Florida, not qualify, and then play for three different colleges. Bridgewater, on the other hand, would go on to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in U of L history.
In three seasons, Bridgewater led the Cardinals to a 30-9 overall record, two conference championships, two double-digit win seasons and a pair of bowl victories over Florida and Miami. He left U of L ranked No. 1 all-time at the school in completion percentage and passing efficiency, and he owns the Cardinal record for passing touchdowns in a single season. Despite playing one year less than the guys ahead of him, Bridgewater also ranks third in career touchdowns and third in career passing yards. He was the Big East Rookie of the Year in 2011, the Big East Offensive Player of the Year in 2012, and an honorable mention All-American in 2013.
Bridgewater made the Pro Bowl for the Minnesota Vikings in 2015 before a freak knee injury derailed his ascent to NFL stardom. He’s currently the backup quarterback for the New Orleans Saints.
5. Gerod Holiman — 2011, 4-stars, No. 91 overall
It’s safe to say that Gerod Holiman had one of the most interesting Louisville football careers of all-time.
Despite being touted as the third-best safety in the 2011 class by ESPN, Holiman played sparingly in his first two seasons at Louisville. Part of that was because of a shoulder injury that forced him to miss all but three games of the 2012 season. The other part was that U of L’s secondary was absolutely loaded with talent in 2012 and 2013, and Holiman’s inability to improve as a tacker left him on the bad side of head coach Charlie Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford.
Holiman finally cracked the starting lineup as a redshirt sophomore in 2014, and promptly produced one of the greatest individual seasons of any player in Cardinal football history. He intercepted 14 passes, tying a national record that had stood alone since 1968. For his efforts, Holiman was named a consensus All-American and was the recipient of the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given each year to the best defensive back in college football.
After declaring himself eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft, Holiman’s struggles with the physical side of playing safety re-emerged. Despite his gaudy interception numbers, Holiman wasn’t selected until Pittsburgh scooped him up in the 7th round. The Steelers released him before the start of the 2015 season, and Holiman would never be an active member of an NFL roster.
4. James Quick — 2013, 4-stars, No. 62 overall
Quick arrived at Louisville after becoming the first player in Kentucky high school football history to play in and win four state championship games, and the first Kentucky player to be named MVP of the Army All-American Game. He also became the first freshman ever to start a football game at Trinity, and helped lead the Shamrock basketball team to its first state championship.
On paper, Quick had a solid four-year career at U of L. Playing one season for Charlie Strong and three for Bobby Petrino, Quick left Louisville after amassing 126 receptions for 2,032 yards and 14 touchdowns. Unfortunately a handful of untimely mistakes against Clemson (twice), Virginia and Kentucky seem likely to define Quick’s Cardinal career more than any of his positive numbers.
After graduating, Quick signed an undrafted free agent deal with Washington, but was released by the team before the start of the 2017 season. Last season, he spent time playing for the Atlanta Legends of the AAF before the league folded.
3. Peanut Whitehead — 2006, 4-stars, No. 60 overall
The highest-rated defensive recruit in the history of Cardinal football, Deantwan “Peanut” Whitehead picked Louisville over Alabama and Auburn on National Signing Day in 2006. He lived up to the hype in year one, earning Freshman All-American honors from The Sporting News after starting ten games and recording four sacks for a Cardinal team that would go 12-1 and win the Orange Bowl. As a sophomore in 2007, he appeared in nine games and made 25 tackles and two sacks before being diagnosed with congenital spinal stenosis, which ended his college career at Louisville.
In a bizarre twist, Whitehead actually returned to the field in 2015 to play for former Louisville coach John L. Smith at Fort Lewis College. Whitehead is now working in Louisville.
2. Brian Brohm — 2004, 4-stars, No. 50 overall
USA Today’s national Offensive Player of the Year in 2004, Brohm continued a family tradition by spurning Notre Dame and Tennessee in favor of staying home and playing for Louisville.
Despite arriving on a team that already had reigning Conference USA Player of the Year Stefan LeFors at quarterback, Brohm earned playing time right away at U of L. He split duties with LeFors on a Cardinal squad that went 11-1 with a lone loss on the road to No. 3 Miami in a 41-38 thriller. After the season, Brohm was named C-USA’s Freshman of the Year despite not starting a single game.
With LeFors graduated, Brohm seized complete control of the U of L offense in 2005. He tossed for 2,883 yards and 19 touchdowns before suffering a season-ending knee injury in a game against Syracuse in late November. Even with the injury, he was named the Big East’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Brohm led Louisville to one of the best seasons in program history in 2006, throwing for 3,049 yards as the Cardinals went 12-1, won the Big East title, and knocked off Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl. Even after head coach Bobby Petrino bolted for a new gig with the Atlanta Falcons, Brohm elected to postpone his NFL career and return to U of L for his senior season. In that senior season, he posted career-bests in passing yards (4,024), completions (308), and touchdowns (30), but the team struggled to a 6-6 record under new head coach Steve Kragthorpe and missed out on the postseason for the first time in Brohm’s college career.
The Green Bay Packers took Brohm in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft, but he spent just one full season with the franchise before signing with Buffalo. He spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons with the Bills, making two starts. After stints in the UFL and the CFL, Brohm transitioned into a coaching career. He’s currently the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Purdue.
1. Michael Bush — 2003, 5-stars, No. 11 overall
In an era where the top local talent almost always made the move North to Ohio State or Notre Dame, Michael Bush broke the mold. After a remarkable career at Male High School where he starred both on the football field and the basketball court, Bush waived off every top college football program in America to stay home and play for the Cardinals.
After originally committing to U of L because he was told he’d be able to play quarterback, Bush quickly found his way onto the field for the Cardinals at running back. He broke out as a junior in 2005, rushing for 1,143 yards and 23 touchdowns. Only USC’s LenDale White accounted for more points in the FBS that season. Bush kicked off a much-hyped senior season by rushing for 128 yards and three touchdowns in the first half of Louisville’s season-opening game against Kentucky. His season and his college career were then cut brutally short when he suffered a broken right tibia during a routine rushing play at the start of the third quarter.
Injury concerns pushed Bush to the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft, where he was selected by the Oakland Raiders with the 100th overall pick. He spent five seasons with Oakland, two with the Chicago Bears and one with the Arizona Cardinals, totaling 4,250 total yards and 31 touchdowns in his NFL career.