CRAWFORD | A day for smiles, but Cards, Petrino, ready to get se - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | A day for smiles, but Cards, Petrino, ready to get serious soon

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Louisville coach Bobby Petrino talks with reporters at a clinic sponsored by his Petrino Family Foundation on Saturday morning. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford). Louisville coach Bobby Petrino talks with reporters at a clinic sponsored by his Petrino Family Foundation on Saturday morning. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford).
Louisville players and kids pause for a team picture before a clinic sponsored by the Petrino Family Foundation. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford). Louisville players and kids pause for a team picture before a clinic sponsored by the Petrino Family Foundation. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford).

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — It was all smiles in the Trager Indoor Practice facility at the University of Louisville on Saturday morning. In a program put on by the Petrino Family Foundation, Cardinals' coach Bobby Petrino and many of his players put on a short clinic for kids who have been treated at Kosair Children’s Hospital or other area facilities.

“Our guys really enjoy it,” Petrino said. “You see a guy out here like James Burgess, who probably has more community service hours than anybody at the university, they always think back to how they were raised, where they came from, and to be able to get back and put smiles on the kids’ faces today is fun for them. Our players enjoy it as much as the kids. And it’s not only the kids and the stories they have and what they’ve gone through, but you walk around and see the smiles of the parents watching their kids having fun, that’s as special to me as anything.”

It’s a welcome break for all of them, Petrino said. But if you were to peek inside the Howard Schnellenberger complex after the outside stuff has died down, you’d see that the activity in the coaching offices is picking up — the coffee makers are more active, lights burn a little later at night.

The season is coming, and Petrino has a lot to accomplish from the time the team opens camp until it faces a nationally ranked Auburn team in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game on Sept. 5 in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

“You can tell around the office, it’s getting a lot closer,” Petrino said. “But I’m really excited about it. I think we have some things we have to do offensively to get us where we’re used to being and what we need to do, but I really like our attitude and our ability. We’ve just got to do a great job teaching and coaching. Defensively I think we should be a real strong team, particularly our front seven, that’s where our experience and our leadership comes from. But the best part is the attitude that our team has and the leadership. I think we have a special group of players.”

Burgess is one of those Petrino is talking about. The senior linebacker is a preseason member of the Lombardi and Nagurski Award watch lists. But he’s also a nominee for the AllState Good Hands Award, which goes to players who are active in their communities.

He said he thinks about his own childhood in Homestead, Fla., a Miami suburb, when he gets out on the field to work with kids.

“We never had a lot of guys come back and do things like this when I was growing up, where I’m from,” Burgess said. “. . . So while I’m here I want to do all of this I can, and when I get home I’ll do the same.”

Defense, again, is expected to lead the way for the Cardinals as Petrino tries to identify his offensive leaders and put pieces in the right place. After ranking No. 1 nationally in total defense in 2013, there were some questions as to how the Cardinals play defensively following the departure of Charlie Strong for Texas.

Junior linebacker Keith Kelsey said the defense knew it had its doubters, But he credited defensive coordinator Todd Grantham — and a lot of pride among its returning players — for keeping the Cards among the nation’s defensive leaders, No. 6 overall in total defense.

“It’s been a real tough summer,” Kelsey said. “The strength coaches have been making sure we get in the best shape of our lives. We’ve been going hard as a team. There’s a lot of pride on our defense, and I give a lot of thanks to Coach Grantham. He and his staff really had us well-prepared for every game. But last year was last year and this is a new season.”

Petrino has to sort through five quarterbacks as he looks for a signal-caller for the Cardinals. He has to find a nucleus that works well together on the offensive front. And he again has a crowded corps of running backs, led by Brandon Radcliff, who carried for team-bests of 737 yards, 12 touchdowns and 5.1 yards per carry last season. Now a redshirt junior, Radcliff finds himself in a position of leadership on the offense, but he said it feels comfortable to him.

“I’m ready to be that guy they can depend on just playing any role I have to play for this team to be successful and win,” Radcliff said. “I feel it’s easier for me to have some leadership, just because I was in games last year and had some production, so other guys can listen to me and not just see me as a newcomer. That makes it easier for me to be a little bit vocal. But you have to show it with work ethic, too, and lead by actions and not just by words.”

Petrino will take Burgess and Sheldon Rankins with him to the ACC Media Kickoff in Pinehurst, N.C., from Sunday to Tuesday. A year ago, Petrino was the newcomer to the ACC event, answering questions about where the program would fit in its new league. This year, Petrino said, he thinks U of L has answered those questions across the board.

“I think what was exciting for the entire university was how we did in all sports,” Petrino said. “Obviously we were all nervous about it. We knew we were stepping into a very good conference. But we felt like we competed real well. We were right there to win a championship and that’s something we want to get done. And then you look at what all our other sports did, and it’s exciting and a great fit for our university.”

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