CRAWFORD | Lamar Jackson growing up fast -- relishes role as fac - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Lamar Jackson growing up fast -- relishes role as face of Louisville program

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Louisville's Lamar Jackson talks with reporters at ACC Media Days in Charlotte, N.C. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Louisville's Lamar Jackson talks with reporters at ACC Media Days in Charlotte, N.C. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WDRB) — Usually, when a director of football operations hears his cell phone ring at 4:30 in the morning, it’s a bad thing.

When it happened to University of Louisville director of football ops Andy Wagner on Friday, it was a sophomore quarterback thing.

Lamar Jackson was on the other end of the line. He wanted to know if he should wear his Manuel Couture media day suit on the plane, or if he’d get to change at the Charlotte hotel.

Let’s just say Jackson appears ready for his close-up. And after thinking about it, Cardinals’ coach Bobby Petrino decided this was as good a time as any to let him handle some speaking on behalf of the program.

“We threw him in the spotlight as a player. I could easily have said, he’s a sophomore, leave him at home, you know, don’t put any pressure on him to come to media days,” Petrino said. “But I really do feel like he’s going to be one of our marquee players, be the face of our program for a while, and he needed to come and experience this, and enjoy it, have a smile on his face. And to enjoy something, you’ve got to have confidence with it, so we worked with him.”

Jackson said he worked with various individuals, doing some mock interviews and talking to people about slowing his diction, answering calmly. The main thing he had to get comfortable with, he said, was “just learning to be myself.”

“In high school, I didn’t really have interviews, maybe just a couple, so when I saw all these people coming up to me, I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this. I might mess up and say something I’m not supposed to say,’” Jackson said. “I’d get cameras in my face and I’m like, ‘Oh man, I don’t know what to say.’ But now, since I’ve had a little practice, it’s easier to just be myself, not be uptight.”

Jackson’s whole offseason has been an exercise in studying, and gaining confidence. As an exercise in improving his understanding of the offense — and his passing techniques — Petrino eliminated the running part of his game from Jackson’s options during spring practice.

The result has been that Jackson feels much more confident about his understanding of the overall offense — not just in his ability to run by anyone. He can draw up a play and show you the routes every receiver is supposed to run. He can number his progressions against various defenses.

A year ago, he was on the field winging it, sometimes making plays on sheer talent. Now, he has added a knowledge of the game to the physical gifts he already has.

Petrino smiled talking about it.

“You didn’t really have to watch film to look and say, ‘He had no idea that play, did he?’ But he’d look around and find someone to throw the ball to,” Petrino said. “The great thing now is he knows all the concepts. . . . He can picture it, and that’s really what you do as a quarterback when you receive the play, you’re picturing the formation, the routes, everything, and then you give it to your teammates and you’re doing it again, and then you play it. So you actually play the play twice before you snap the ball, and he can do that now.”

Jackson watches his film from last season and can see the difference.

“A lot of times, they just told me to be myself,” he said. “Now I know what I’m doing. I know where the receivers are supposed to be. It’s a mindset. It’s like with this today. Last year, I’d probably have been late, just because I didn’t know what it was all about. Now I know. It’s mental. As a freshman you’re not ready.”

Jackson says now, he believes he is. He spent all summer watching video of himself. Petrino gave him the assignment of writing out the mistakes he made — longhand — so they would stay in his mind. Earlier this week, he took a peek at some of his interviews from after the spring game, too, and laughed at how fast he talked. 

“You’re the quarterback, being the face of the program comes with that,” he said. “And I’m OK with that. I just love that coach has faith in me and sees that I’m maturing and not a kid anymore.”

As Jackson learns more of the offense, the real fun begins for Petrino. He can keep adding wrinkles, keep challenging Jackson, keep molding the attack around him.

“It was fun that he was up at 5 o’clock this morning and ready for the day,” Petrino said. “That was even a little earlier than I got out of bed. I was excited that he had called Andy Wagner early and was ready to go with some excitement and energy. That’s what Lamar is. He’s a guy who enjoys life. I can be yelling at him and he’ll smile at me. He just enjoys it, and he’s a tremendous competitor and he’s got a lot of confidence. And we’re all excited for him.”

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