CRAWFORD | Cardinals take their place at ACC Football Kickoff table
It has been, if you think about it, a whirlwind offseason for the University of Louisville football team.
Sunday, July 20th 2014, 7:40 pm EDT
GREENSBORO, N.C. (WDRB) -- It has been, if you think about it, a whirlwind offseason for the University of Louisville football team.
There was the loss of their coach. The hiring of an old coach back. There was the slew of changes that comes with a new coaching staff. The program lost its face of the past three seasons in Teddy Bridgewater, and lost two defensive starters to the first round of the NFL Draft.
But none of that may have been as jarring as the change the U of L contingent got on Sunday when it arrived at the annual ACC Kickoff media days at the Grandover Resort in North Carolina.
There was U of L's new helmet (did we mention the helmets and uniforms changed?), sitting right behind national champion Florida State's and just in front of N.C. State's beside conference commissioner John Swofford before his morning remarks.
Drew Deener of ESPN Radio 680-AM in Louisville, who made the trek to Newport, R.I., every year for Big East (and then American Athletic Conference) Media Day, said, "We're on a real radio row now. In the Big East -- we were radio row. We were it."
U of L senior wide receiver DeVante Parker might be the quietest guy on the team. By the time he was finished making the rounds of a dozen radio appearances, at least a half-dozen TV interviews and an hour with print media, Parker had probably doubled his number of previous public utterances in a single afternoon.
"I've never talked so much in my life," Parker said.
Nobody talked as much -- or as happily -- as Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. The Florida State sophomore walked in and said, "Before I say anything, how does it feel to have an ACC team come in here with a national championship? Can we get a round of applause please? Finally. We took it away from the SEC."
He didn't get his round of applause, but he did get command of the spotlight. When asked if he fought a one-loss ACC team could crack the new four-team college football playoff, he said, "A loss is not in our vocabulary. I can't speak on that."
It was about all he couldn't talk about. Out in the lobby after his media session, he hung out with Parker and Lorenzo Mauldin, giving them play-by-play of his exploits on a highlight video playing on a loop.
"Jameis is just being goofy, that's who he is," Maulidin said. "It's good getting to know all these guys. Everything is laid back. When we get on the field it will be different, but you know, we could be teammates with some of these guys someday."
Petrino chose U of L's two participants with a purpose. Mauldin was the first player he went to after taking over. He knew if he could get Mauldin's approval, most of the team would follow.
The day Charlie Strong quit was hard for every player in the U of L locker room. Mauldin had reason to be devastated. In and out of foster care since the age of two, Mauldin had seen parental figures come and go his whole life. And here was another.
"When I first got here I didn't trust anybody, especially from a male standpoint," Mauldin said. "But the guys who were here helped me out, along with Chris Morgan, who has helped me a lot. But just trusting men in general. . . . From my past, I've ben bouncing around from home to home so it wasn't new to me. I got attached to foster parents I had, but in the end I would have to move away because of their circumstances. So I had been through that."
On the night Strong quit, Mauldin spoke up.
"I just talked to a couple of guys who were hurt the most," Mauldin said. "Mostly seniors, I just got them together and said we've just got one more year together and we've got each other and we just need to play through this. Coach Strong did the best thing for his family. We'd all have done the same. But it was time for us to be each other's family. Life prepared me for that exact moment."
On Petrino's first day, he called Mauldin in and asked him for a favor. He asked if Mauldin would model a black uniform of the type he was going to have the Cardinals wear in their first game in the ACC. Mauldin obliged, and the team's eruption when he entered wearing the black was YouTube hit.
"I was the first player he talked to before he went in and he told me I'm one of the guys he wants to lead the team," Mauldin said. ". . . So that meant a lot to me. Then when he told me to wear the black, I felt good because I could show the guys that I'm cool with it, so you guys can be cool with it, too."
Mauldin's story is well-known in Louisville. It quickly reverberated with a new east-coast audience on Sunday, however. Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports Tweeted, "Mauldin is some story."
Parker might've been the last player anyone would pick for a media role when he arrived on campus. He's one of the most gifted wide receivers in college football, but he's not a big talker.
"He's quiet, he doesn't talk much, you know," Petrino said last week. "But his grandma came in and sat down and met with me when I first got the job here. And when you have a grandma call the first thing you think is, 'Oh, no. What does she want?' And she came in and it was great. She said, 'Coach, we're 100 percent behind you. DeVante doesn't talk a lot, I just want to know what's going on, how is he doing in school?' And, really, I learned a lot about him from talking to her, how quiet he is, how serious. When he steps on the practice field he works extremely hard, and he's improved in his craft since he got here. He knows he's a very good player, and had a lot of success, but he still goes out there and works hard every day to get better. That's impressive to me."
Putting Parker under the media day spotlight forced him out of his shell a little bit.
Asked about his nickname of "Spiderman," Parker shot back, "Are you asking about me, or the real Spiderman?"
He shared his favorite daily television show. "Sponge Bob. Every day. Channel 42."
But ask him about football, and he knows the opportunity that is in front of him. He said he's trying to improve his blocking, that he's working on his routes and improving his hands by catching tennis balls from a machine. He wears a bracelet with the words, "Don't settle. Be great."
He says he's having fun in Petrino's system.
"Last coaching staff always put their foot on the brake," Parker said. "This staff, they like to score. That's what we're looking forward to."
The key is in the ignition. Louisville has arrived in the ACC.
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