Teddy Bridgewater is one of 10 U of L starters returning home to Florida Saturday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Television placed the Louisville-Florida International football game on Friday night last season. Friday night-lights are what FIU and TV programmers discussed for the rematch this season.
U of L coach Charlie Strong vetoed that. FIU is based in Miami, but Louisville lives in Miami, too.
Strong asked for a Saturday game – and it will be played this Saturday at 7 p.m. at Alfonso Field. There are 10 starters on this Cardinal team from Florida, five more starters than any other state has produced for this U of L team. Many are from South Florida, starting with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater played at Miami Northwestern High School, which is 17.2 miles from the FIU campus. FIU has 16 starters from Florida. U of L has 32 Floridians, including the 10 starters, on its roster.
FIU drew 15,685 for its only home game against Akron. Bridgewater is a popular guy who has completed nearly 82 percent of his passes and is stirring some Heisman Trophy talk. Wonder who will be the home team Saturday?
"What's good is that the players we have recruited here get to go back home," Strong said. "It's really good for us just for a recruiting base."
Louisville started working the entire state of Florida relentlessly from the day that Howard Schnellenberger moved here from Miami nearly three decades ago. Jay Gruden. Craig Swabek. Ralph Dawkins. You remember the names.
Strong knows what Schnellenberger knew:
There are so many fast, strong, powerful prospects in Florida that even if the University of Florida, Florida State and Miami sign everybody they want, there are always enough leftovers to feed dozens of schools.
Rivals.com compiles football recruiting statistics every winter. The numbers that Rivals writer Dallas Jackson put together last February show that 325 Florida high school players signed letters of intent with Football Bowl Subdivision programs in 2012. Only Texas – with 371 – had a better year. California is packed with athletes, but only 228 California kids signed with FBS programs.
But those are not the most impressive numbers. Consider these: Florida led the nation in the most FBS signees per player -- one for every 119 guys.
That's better than Texas (1 in 455), better than Alabama (1 in 243) and better than runner-up Georgia (1 in 194).
The numbers from Kentucky are a reminder of why Strong, Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart and Kentucky coach Joker Phillips send their staffs to Tampa, Jacksonville, Miami and Sarasota. Kentucky had 18 FBS signees, one for every 769 players.
"Football has always been the sport (in Florida)," Strong said. "But a lot of the players want to leave. We already have a built-in relationship with a lot of the high school coaches."
The football obsession in Florida has only grown in the last two decades with the national titles won by Florida State (1993, 1999), Miami (2001) and Florida (1996, 2006, 2008).
Florida State believes it will return to the national championship discussion this season. Florida has gone on the road and defeated Texas A&M and Tennessee. Miami has work to do – and Louisville has been positioned to take advantage of the Hurricanes' troubles.
In Florida, rival recruiters try to use basketball and Kentucky's rural image against U of L. Strong still laughs when he tells the story about reassuring Bridgewater that he would not be playing football on a horse farm. In fact, he believes that U of L's urban campus is an edge.
"We always feel that we have an advantage because they're coming from a city to a city," Strong said. "So when they come from Miami to Louisville, this is a city."
This weekend the Louisville players from the Miami-area are heading home. The idea is to show the next generation of players that it's OK to follow them.