LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A thousand things can go wrong in a football season. Breakdowns, injuries, chemistry, overconfidence, there are as many obstacles as there are seats in a stadium. But for the University of Louisville, everyone from players to coaches counts on one thing, one player, being consistently right.
Teddy Bridgewater carries a lot on his shoulders heading into this season. But he isn't carrying the weight of the Heisman Trophy, nor the weight of the world. He figures the weight of the next game is just enough.
"Coach (Shawn) Watson always tells me, 'You're the eye of the hurricane, the calmest part of the storm,'" Bridgewater said last week at American Athletic Conference Media Day.
He also is the steady hand expected to guide the No. 9-ranked Cardinals this season.
Bridgewater is no stranger to perseverance through adversity. When it comes to facing difficulty on the field, he's been through worse. The story of his mother's breast cancer scare is well-known. Less well-known is Bridgewater's struggle during that time. He wanted to quit football, to come home, to take care of his mother and earn money. His mother, Rose Murphy, knew that was a ticket to nowhere. She wasn't going to have her son melt into the inner-city Miami night.
Murphy and her kids moved more than a dozen times during Teddy's childhood. From one neighborhood to the next, they were all pretty much the same, Teddy said.
"Projects on every corner, the corner store, the funeral home, club here, club there," Bridgewater said. "Not many escape that, but I'm blessed."
Bridgewater, unlike most, was not tempted by the streets. When Strong talks about his team needing to turn off the "noise in the system," Bridgewater is not one he's worried about. Bridgewater has been doing it his whole life.
"I knew my purpose," he said. "The outside influences, I can put on the back burner. I never thought about other kids having it better or worse. Everywhere we moved, I was able to adapt. I played basketball, football, baseball, ran some track."
When his mother fell ill, she wasn't about to let him stop playing. She recognized his gift, and gave him one in return. She kept sending him out the front door.
"I find myself calling or texting my mom and saying, 'Thank you for raising me the way you did, and telling me, you better get back out there on track,'" Bridgewater said. "Because looking back, there was nothing for me back there. If I had not stuck with football and with school, I don't know where I would be right now."
If you wonder sometimes how someone can play the way Bridgewater does in pressure situations, think back to what he played through, and look ahead to what he's playing for. That $10 million insurance policy against catastrophic injury? It's nothing compared to what he hopes to earn. Bridgewater has been named the second most-talented player in college football in the coming season by one analyst with the NFL Network. Agents became such a nuisance that U of L coach Charlie Strong had to try to take a stand against unwanted solicitation.
When asked what it is about Bridgewater that inspires such confidence in his ability to set the right tone, Strong's answer bears some contemplation.
"I think it's Teddy's faith," Strong said. "He's a guy who isn't looking for attention or praise. Everything for him is about something more."
Said Bridgewater: "I was exposed to Christianity at a young age. I'm very spiritual. I feel that everything happens through Christ. . . . You leave it all in God's hands. He works his miracles. I'm a firm believer in that. Whenever you start thinking it's about you, and you're the reason for all the success, then is when you're in danger of failing."
How focused on the coming season is Bridgewater? When EA Sports came out with its 2014 NCAA Football game, he spent the better part of an entire day reworking his Louisville team.
"Yeah, EA is so advanced, they have so many playbooks and so many of the formations we use, that I did a little work," Bridgewater said.
What he did was, basically, recreate U of L's actual offense within the video game. When his U of L team comes to the line of scrimmage, he's calling the same plays he might call on the field.
"They have plays that, if they're not our plays, they're very similar," Bridgewater said. "And if they're not, you can make hot routes. And not only will EA have the offensive plays, but the coverages we face in college football, blitzes, pressures that we see. It's also a way for me to get an understanding and a great look at how defenses might react. It was a lot of work setting up, but I think it will pay off."
So even when Bridgewater is playing, he's working. This is what Watson, U of L's offensive coordinator, is talking about when he calls Bridgewater one of the most special players he's ever coached.
The story of Bridgewater backing out of the school's Heisman campaign by now is well known. He was working out one day in the spring when some guys were giving him a hard time about being a "Heisman candidate." He didn't like it. He didn't want that target. He didn't like that his teammates saw him that way. When Watson noticed something was wrong, Bridgewater told him, then told Strong.
Bridgewater wants to be one of the guys. He doesn't want all the praise.
"Go back through my tapes," he said. "Look at how many times receivers have made great catches to get us out of tight spots. I threw the ball, but if you're honest, the better play might have been made by DeVante (Parker) or Eli (Rogers) or Damian (Copeland). Nobody does anything alone."
Bridgewater didn't ask to be the face of the program. He doesn't want a Heisman campaign, and he doesn't crave the extra attention. But he knows now, unlike a year ago, that it's part of the job. Before the AAC media day, Bridgewater endured nine or so hours of live interviews on various ESPN platforms. It was a draining run, but one he learned from.
"A year ago -- I can sit here and say that I didn't ever want to go through anything like this," Bridgewater said. "I'm not the type of guy who wants to sit and talk about myself. But I've accepted it because it comes with the role and everything. And I'm thankful for every chance I get to share my story."
Ask him what his purpose is and he's quick to answer: "My purpose in life is just to give back, you know, be that picture to change the stereotype of where I'm from. Where I'm from right now, people would call me a superhero. I'm doing what all the children back in Miami dreamed of doing, being on national TV, impacting lives. You kind of feel that as a responsibility, to not let people down. . . . My biggest fear is letting people down. It's what makes me work the way I do."
Bridgewater has been contrasted a great deal with Heisman winner Johnny Manziel this offseason. It's probably not fair for either player. Yet it is difficult not to do when looking at the different kinds of headlines they generate.
Manziel is a player ESPN is obsessed with. He has made headlines even when he didn't mean to this summer. Bridgewater lacks that flashy dimension. His favorite color? Gray. There's not a lot of showmanship there, until he gets on the football field.
Watson has challenged Bridgewater over the summer to push himself toward perfection, to make better decisions, to be more consistent, to perfect his command of the offense.
Nobody told Bridgewater to set the tone for the coming season. He's doing it anyway. It isn't flashy. But you get the feeling that Strong, his staff, and U of L's players would not choose anyone else.
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