LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Signing highly touted freshmen is one thing. Keeping your best players for a senior year is something more altogether.

It doesn’t happen much, and you figure if you have four guys apply for NFL Draft evaluations that you’re going to lose at least half, even if the reports aren’t the most optimistic.

That’s what makes what happened Thursday so big for the University of Louisville

Four players — safety Josh Harvey Clemons, defensive tackle DeAngelo Brown and linebackers Keith Kelsey and Devonte Fields — all announced in a news conference Thursday that they will return to Louisville for their senior seasons.

Lamar Jackson’s performance in the Music City Bowl was one thing. It’ll have effects into next season with pundits talking about the Cardinals, and a potential national ranking, if not in the preseason, then early on if the Cardinals play well.

In fact, an early pre-season ranking by Athlon Sports has the Cards at No. 22 in the nation for 2016 (click here).  Clemson (2) and Florida State (5), U of L's two rivals in the ACC Coastal Division, are ranked ahead of the Cardinals.

The return of these four players is even bigger. This is the guts of a defense that began to come into its own at the end of the season. Kelsey finished the season as Louisville’s top tacklers with 107. 

Fields was one of the top defensive players in the nation over the final seven games of the season. His 22 1/2 tackles for loss just missed a school record, and that came after working for much of the first half of the season to get comfortable in the defensive scheme. Once he was, he record nine sacks in his final four games, and 11 on the season, good for fourth nationally.

Harvey-Clemons started all 13 games and intercepted three passes. He was up and down in the second half of the season.

Brown had 40 tackles and 6 1/2 for loss, and brings important experience back to a group that will lose Sheldon Rankins.

The four talked to each other about the decision.

“I called these guys over the break to see where their mind was at,” Fields said. “Another reason was to get my degree in December. We’ve also got a chance to win the ACC championship and that’s what we’re preparing for. We’ve got a great team coming back and I’m grateful for the second chance.”

Harvey-Clemons called the decision a “no brainer.” 

Kelsey said, “We have a chance to be really good. We have a lot of players returning and with the young players stepping up, we have an opportunity to have a great season.”

TWO LOUISVILLE ASSISTANTS DEPART FOR SEC POSTS: While the news was all good on the player front, the Cardinals will lose two defensive assistants.

Terrell Buckley, cornerback coach for Louisville the past two seasons, told Jody Demling of Cardinal Authority that he’s “going home” to take the position of safeties coach at Mississippi State.

“It was the toughest decision that I've had to make," Buckley told Demling. "Much tougher than I expected. Any other opportunity and we wouldn't be having this conversation. But this is tough to pass up. It's my family.

"My mom and sisters and cousins, everybody lives within a four-hour radius. It will be nice to be back there again."

The Cards also are losing safeties coach Greg Brown, who will take an assistant coaching position at Missouri.

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