Obviously an exciting day. We’ve been working on this class over a year, really probably a year and a half, when you think that last fall guys were able to come watch us play and we also had some on campus during basketball season before the pandemic hit. So we were able to get a head start in that regard. And then probably the most unique year in recruiting in the history of recruiting for everybody, including the student-athletes and their families as well as our coaches, the recruiting department here and everything we’ve been having to deal with.
You think about through last spring when the NCAA rules were changed to accomodate how we needed to recruit. We learned a lot and we learned a lot about how to use technology and how to overcome. We’ve done a lot of virtual visits trying to bring the campus to the families without leaving their home. Our guys did an incredible job like that, a lot of hours watching computer screens and visiting with families and recruits throughout this whole period of time and just glad to be able to get to this point right here.
Most of the time, you can always figure on a few surprises on signing day, but fortunately for us we really didn’t have any surprises this time. We were able to keep our targets, the guys who wanted to be here and we’re excited Twenty-one guys signed and we were done at 10:30, probably the earliest we’ve ever been done on a signing day. Thirteen defensive players, eight offensive players, met a lot of needs. Fourteen of these guys were team captains. That’s one thing we wanted to look at — leadership, guys can lead in that type of way.
When we talk about the kind of team we want that’s huge for us. Average GPA in this class over 3.0, so academics are important to them. I think also, 10 of them are coming in January, so half the class will be here when we get back on Jan. 11. For us, we’ll meet the families for the first time in person. If you think about our team last year and how we finished up, obviously a great finish to our season beating Wake Forest. We talked about how many young guys made plays and we felt really good about those guys and we can’t wait to get back here and start working with these young players. Then you start adding this mix to our team, it’s a very exciting time.
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO FOR A BOWL?
Vince has been in communication with the ACC this week and we’re not in line for a bowl, so we’re moving forward for next season.
WAS VERSATILITY A PRIORITY WITH THE DEFENSIVE GUYS?
One hundred percent. Particularly some of the guys that can play defensive back/ourside linebacker. We’re very mulitple in our defense. A lot of time on third down here comes eight new guys onto the field. So we wanted guys who can be versatile and we feel like we got a lot of good guys that can play multiple spots on that side of the football, and that’s what you want — to be able to have versatility within the positions, whether it be free safety, strong safety, outside linebacker. We like to bring those guys off the edge as well. A lot of different body types as you look at the defensive line. There are five guys who can play different spots. Versatility comes to mind when we think about some of those defensive guys.
YOU’VE GOT GUYS FROM NINE DIFFERENT STATES, DID YOU DO THAT ON PURPOSE OR JUST HOW IT KIND OF WORKED OUT?
We certainly had a lot of times (in Georgia and Florida), but we looked all over the country really. Early on in the process, like right now you start thinking about offering the 2022 class and you start getting names, watching film and you like the way they play, you reach out to them. You talk to their high school coach, you talk to their family and if there’s a mutual match there, then you start recruiting. You start building that relationship and you end up sticking with some of those guys, and I think that’s how we were able to get some guys from different parts of the country this year. A lot of it is need based. Look at tight end, we’re looking all over the country to find the best tight ends that fit what we do. Then you start narrowing it down, who has interest for you and then you end up with what you have. Maybe some of that had to do with this year because we weren’t able to get out, but that’s kind of how we do it anyway. We just cast a net and then start narrowing it down to who has interest in you and you like them and it becomes a good fit for you.
ONE OF THE CONCERNS AFTER THE SOUTH CAROLINA SITUATION WAS THAT IT WOULD HURT RECRUITING, BUT YOU WERE ABLE TO KEEP THIS CLASS PRETTY MUCH INTACT. WAS THERE A LOT OF HAND-HOLDING TOWARD THE END? DID YOU HAVE TO EXPLAIN YOURSELF THAT YOU WERE, INDEED, STAYING?
We had conversations the whole time with our recruits and really nothing changed with that. Our guys knew that we are focused on Louisville and getting this program to the top. Really, the relationship we’ve been able to build with these guys over the course of 10 months is still strong and they’re excited about getting here. We haven’t seen these guys in maybe a year, some haven’t been here. We’re just excited to get them here, see what they look like and start working with them.
THERE ARE NO KENTUCKY PLAYERS. WAS THIS A THIN YEAR IN THE STATE?
We certainly recruited some guys in Kentucky. I don’t think it was that strong a year across the state in high school, but we certainly recruited some guys who for whatever reason didn’t work out. We’re always looking and we’ll get some walk-on guys from the state to come in here, which I think we’ve proven in the two years we’ve been here that we will play them. They’ll have a great opportunity just like the guys that signed. So if we look forward one or two years from now we’ll probably see some guys from Kentucky who will contribute to this program.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE FROM T.J. LEWIS AND YOU LOST TEE WEBB, SO WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE QUARTERBACK ROOM AS A WHOLE?
With T.J., what a great person. He embodies what we’re looking for, a very smart kid, he’s above a 3.0. Great athlete number one, he’s a winner, he’s a captain, he’s a leader, so he embodies everything you’re looking for on your football team, regardless of the position. One thing we loved about him was the versatility he’s going to bring to our team. He can play quarter, he can play receiver, the defensive backfield, we think he can play a lot of different positions. We’ll give him a great look at quarterback. With Tee moving on we’re still on the lookout for another quarterback as we look at transfers and that type of thing, we’ll see what’s available. You’d like to have at least four quarterbacks who can come in and play. It just so happened that Cunningham pretty much took all the snaps this year and stayed healthy throughout the whole year. Last year we had to play three quarterbacks. You want to have four guys you can go to that you feel good about, so we’ll be on the look for that. But we love what T.J. brings to the table.
WHAT ABOUT THIS CLASS STANDS OUT AND WHAT ABOUT IT CAN SHAPE THE REBUILD YOU’RE TRYING TO DO HERE?
We met a lot of needs with the type of people, number one. The leadership piece is what we’re looking to bring in here, the guys that are hungry, the guys that can lead within the group without much prodding from coaches. That’s huge. You talk about guys we think can play, Benjamin Perry can play anywhere in the country, the versatility he brings, very smart, a heady person, certainly the kind of player we’re looking for.
Trevion Cooley, he’s one of the top running backs in the country with his skill set. He didn’t play this year, he’s a guy in running back terms he’s got a lot football left in him. He’s basically played one year at running back, so I think his upside is tremendous. We all know we want to be able to run the football and he’s 208 pounds now, so he’s gonna be a very big, powerful running back to go along with what we have with Mitchell and Hall with his game-breaking speed. We were able to add in this class not only some great depth that’s going to be able to come in here and help our football team, but I think there’s guys in this class that are gonna push to be starting and playing time.
That’s what you want, bring in guys who are going to be right there with the guys that have been playing because now you’re gonna have competition every single day at those positions. Plus, we all know you’re going to have guys get dinged up and other guys are gonna have to step in and there won’t be much dropoff. I think you saw that against Wake when we started six guys on offense. Those guys were ready to play, they played at a high level and that’s what we wanted to add on this year to create that great depth we’re gonna need.
WAS RECRUITING IN THE PANDEMIC WAS IT EASIER TO HOLD OFF SCHOOLS OR KEEP GUYS YOU HAD COMMITTED?
Probably was because you always worry. . .we always tell these guys before they commit, we want to make sure you want to come play for us. We’re not one of these programs that pressure guys with, ‘we’ve got to have your commitment, we’ve got to have your commitment.’ I want them to know they want to come be a part of our program. So in that sense, yes, they really couldn’t visit any more schools. In years past, when it gets down to it in December, we’ve heard guys say they want to go take this visit. We don’t ever like those type of conversations because they go somewhere else, see something last and they think it may be best for them. But I think one thing about this class is the relationship we established last spring and summer is as strong as we’ve ever had a relationship with any class we’ve recruited. So we felt really, really good about it heading into the fall and I think it just strengthened throughout the entire fall and with the character these guys have, it’s exactly what we were looking for.
I THINK YOU HAVE TWO SLOTS LEFT IN THE CLASS, ANYWHERE YOU ARE SPECIFICALLY LOOKING?
I think so. Quarterback would be one, offensive line is another we’ll keep our eyes open for. And the best available player too out there. I think this year is kind of starting an unprecedented time when you start looking at the transfer portal and it’s only going to grow when you think one-time transfer is going to go into effect in January. It’s going to change recruiting for everybody; it’s going to be interesting to see how that works out.
WHAT DO THE SAFETY RECRUITS BRING?
We needed some more help in the defensive backfield, whether at safety or corner. We felt really good about the ones we brought in last year. All those guys played this year and they’re getting better and better. We feel like in this class we’re gonna create a lot more depth and these guys can come in and compete right away and that’s gonna be fun to watch. We got four DBs coming in January, learn the defense, go through spring practice. We’ll be young in the defensive backfield next year, but we feel they’re really good players.
YOU’RE LOSING SOME REALLY GOOD SKILL GUYS, BUT THE SKILL GUYS YOU ADDED ARE PRETTY DYNAMIC GUYS
All three of those guys, we anticipate coming in and playing. All three will be here in January, the running back and two wide receivers. We need help at those positions because we lost some great players who played here with Fitzpatrick, Tutu, Hawkins, great production. So these guys are gonna have to come in and learn the offense really quickly, go through spring practice, earn respect of teammates, earn their playing time essentially. They’re all eager and willing to do that and they’re excited about it. They’re gonna have a great opportunity as we open up with Ole Miss the first game. Ole Miss can score points, so we know we’re gonna have to score next year right off the bat and we feel like those guys can do it. Can’t wait to get started.