LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Storm clouds were gathering over the University of Louisville's Cardinal Caravan at Captain's Quarters on the banks of the Ohio River Thursday afternoon, soon the area would be hit with severe weather.
So there was only one place to go, just one place where it is always sunny.
I had to find Will Stein.
The University of Louisville senior quarterback earned the nickname "Sunny" from the mega-popular Every Day Should Be Saturday college football blog (parental discretion advised) and Mike Rutherford's Card Chronicle blog (where children are always welcome). He's also earned the nickname "Favre" from U of L coach Charlie Strong, because he essentially believes he is Favre once he steps onto the field.
This time a year ago, Stein had the inside track to the starting quarterback job and was preparing to cap an unlikely ascent after coming to U of L as a walk-on from Trinity High School. This season, he's still preparing to be a starter -- but knows that pushing expected starter Teddy Bridgewater and being a source of leadership for the team are roles that could be equally important.
With U of L football players largely off-limits to the media this summer, Stein gave a first look into the offseason workouts from a player's perspective.
"Overall it's been a really good summer," Stein said. "We're growing together as a team. There's a lot of chemistry being built, and it's been fun to the see the young guys improve and grow and mature."
Stein echoed offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's assessment that the offense was at times a makeshift arrangement last season after he began calling the plays when Mike Sanford left the staff. Stein said having Watson in the driver's seat officially has made for a more productive offseason for the offense, of which he said, "I think has made big strides,"
"Our coaching staff has leveled out, so we know exactly what we're going to start with in the fall," Stein said. "Coach Watson has his philosophy, and that's great, a West Coast philosophy, and we're ready to put it to use. . . . Midseason last year we had that change and everything was different but the same, and it was kind of all wishy-washy. Now with Coach Watson taking over the helm it's been really good, a smooth transition. We've cleaned up a lot of the offense and simplified some stuff so our guys can just go out and play fast."
Stein, as a redshirt senior, has seen the program at its depths and now sees it back on the rise. I asked him to compare the talent level from his first season on campus to now.
"It's an extremely talented group right now," Stein said. "Not just a little bit, but across the board. We've got five running backs who can go. We've got seven receivers who can go. And moving Charles Gaines over to offense is just going to be another explosive weapon. We're really excited to get the ball in those guys' hands."
Of course, the guy most people talk about on offense is Stein's competition at quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater was even better than most expected as a freshman, and is being billed as one of the Big East's top offensive players going into his sophomore season.
Watson said Stein's work ethic and effort have been major keys in Bridgewater's steady improvement. Stein said Bridgewater's improvement has not leveled off.
"He's always improving," Stein said. "You think he's tapped out one day, then the next day he comes back even better. He's got a huge ceiling to keep growing with. He's going to be great this year, but I'm ready to go whenever they need me."
Stein said his summer has been spent on sharpening up technique and on some fundamental details. He also said, "I'm really trying to be the best leader I can be on and off the field, making guys strive to be great. That's a big part of what I want to do this season."
It's a little bit different walking around town after winning a share of the Big East championship, with the team likely to be picked to win another one.
"There's more and more people every day asking, 'Are you excited about the season?'" he said. "In the past, nobody was asking me anything. I can tell the excitement is out there. But the same people picked us last the past two years that are picking us first, so we're humble and hungry."
If fans are a bit more keyed up than usual, Stein said U of L's coaches haven't varied much from their demeanor or mood in the past two seasons.
"These coaches never change," he said. "They act like we went 0-12 every year. They're always wanting us better and setting the expectations higher. It's not just a bowl game anymore, we want to be Big East champions every year, which is great. We're striving for higher things."