Teddy Bridgewater as a freshman, left, and last month at an awards banquet, right.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The question everybody asks Teddy Bridgewater these days is, "What did you have done?"
The University of Louisville junior quarterback underwent some oral surgery after last season. An underbite was repaired, his chin was moved forward a bit and teeth drawn down, and his longer jawline has left him with a noticeably different appearance. I'm not saying his own mother wouldn't recognize him -- but she said that.
"I've shown her a couple of pictures," Bridgewater said while attending the Paul Hornung Award banquet recently. "She has yet to see me in person. She told me that she doesn't recognize me yet, but she will."
Bridgewater smiles as he tells the story. "Right now I'm just feeling good," he says. You might say he's ready for his Heisman close-up -- in more ways than one.
After the Cardinals' Sugar Bowl victory over Florida, Bridgewater deflected the Heisman discussion. It wasn't the first time. Bridgewater is well-spoken, but you could also see that the public side of being the star seemed like a chore to him. He much preferred to push teammates into the interview room, and there were times he came away from interviews feeling apprehensive. At the very least, it's entirely accurate to say he was often reluctant to participate in any kind of individual hype.
After the Sugar Bowl, Bridgewater was asked about the inevitable Heisman hype.
"I wouldn't be in this situation right now and this predicament without my teammates," he said, with the intriguing use of "predicament" perhaps belying a reticence toward the stiff-arm trophy hype that would be coming.
That was in January. Two months later, that has changed. Bridgewater stared into the cameras at the Hornung Award banquet in February and seemed to have a new game plan. He was still humble, but also spoke of being "honored," and no longer seemed to verbally stiff-arm the subject when approached.
In fact, when asked if he found the process at all silly, he said, " Not at all. It's something that I've been training for my whole life to be in these shoes, and at this stage, I don't see anything wrong with it."
The fact is, Bridgewater couldn't stem the Heisman hype even if he wanted to. In New Orleans, while he wouldn't indulge in it, he couldn't stop his own teammates from firing up his bandwagon.
"I've been saying it all year: He's one of the best quarterbacks and best players in the nation," safety Calvin Pryor said. "They look at Louisville, don't give us any credit, but he's one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. I think he deserves (Heisman mention)."
Preston Brown, a linebacker, went on offense for his QB: "Teddy's the best quarterback I've ever seen personally and played with. I think he should be in the Heisman race."
U of L is set to begin spring practice on March 20. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the school's sports marketing gurus will roll out a Bridgewater for Heisman website, just the start of a concerted campaign to put Bridgewater's name into the mix.
It's not just a big deal for the Miami Northwestern product, but for U of L's program itself. It's important for U of L to be able to tell recruits that they can come play in Louisville and be mentioned at the highest level when it comes to national awards. And his status as one of the nation's top players could be important to the program during a season in which marquee schedule opportunities will be scarce. To have a brand-name quarterback that people want to see could be important for U of L.
Bridgewater is going into the spring practice as his team's undisputed leader. If he hadn't earned it by late last season -- and he had -- his performance in delivering a Sugar Bowl berth to the program while playing with a broken wrist at Rutgers elevated his status to run-through-a-brick-wall proportions with his teammates.
"You see him do that, you better believe you want to make plays for him," wideout Damian Copeland said.
The stated personal goals for Bridgewater this season are modest. He says he wants "to remain a student of the game," and continue to push himself in the areas of leadership and avoiding sacks. He's continuing to rehabilitate his surgically repaired wrist, mainly its flexibility and range of motion.
But the team's goals, as Bridgewater articulates them, are much less modest. When the words "national championship" were mentioned, he responded, "That's our main goal. Last year our main goal was to win the Big East and get to a BCS game and we fulfilled those goals. Now we have bigger goals and higher standards and we'll just continue to push ourselves."
Bridgewater has entertained incoming freshman receiver James Quick of Trinity several times, but don't get the notion he's playing favorites. He rattles off names of his receiving corps like he's talking about family. "Oh yes," he said. "DeVante (Parker), Damian Copeland, Eli Rogers and the addition of James Quick and Michaelee Harris coming back, it's going to be a great season. . . . But we have to work hard. We can't get complacent. We have to prepare and play each game like we're the underdogs."
The way Bridgewater figures it, "I'm the type of guy who feels that if I'm successful on the field and continue to have good games day in and day out and work on my leadership traits and leadership skills, then things will fall into place."
But if the school should happen to throw up a Times Square billboard or something like that to help the hype along?
"Hey, I would love that," Bridgewater responded.
That's definitely an audible from a guy who avoided the media spotlight like oncoming rushers last season.
The sports book at Bovada.lv lists Bridgewater with a group of people as fifth-choice for the Heisman, at 12-1, the same odds as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and just behind quarterbacks A.J. McCarron of Alabama and Aaron Murray of Georgia at 10-1, USC receiver Marquis Lee at 9-1, Ohio State QB Braxton Miller at 7-1. Texas A&M's Jonny Manziel is the favorite to repeat.
After Hornung, himself a Heisman winner, said he thinks Bridgewater should be squarely in the mix, Bridgewater said, "It gives you motivation to want to be great, to fill those shoes. . . . I've been training for this my whole life."