LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — It turns out I’m not the only one who raced to the bookstore in pursuit of the latest college football magazines.
So did Jerome Becton, a University of Louisville fan searching for news about the Cardinals in Richmond, Va. Whenever Mr. Becton found something, his first call was to his son, Mekhi, the Cards’ silo-sized offensive tackle.
“My Dad sends me stuff all the time because he gets real giggly about it,” Mekhi Becton said. “He always looks at that stuff.”
Some news could only make Louisville’s opponents giggly. In the pre-season magazines, the Cardinals are a consensus pick to finish seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division.
Other news would make a father tell everybody he sees.
One yearbook — Phil Steele — ranked Becton a fourth-team pre-season all-American. Another — Street & Smith’s — took it up a notch, placing Becton on its second-team all-American offensive line.
If that news made Jerome Becton giggly, it made Mekhi Becton hold his mammoth, 6-foot-7, 360-pound frame in a full-body frown.
“Second team isn’t what I want, so I’m going to work to get that first team,” Becton said. ”It just lit a fuse under me when I saw second team. So I’m going to try to get that first team.”
What’s wrong with second team, directly behind elite guys from Stanford and Alabama?
“Not high enough,” Becton said.
“Just because of the work that I’ve put in to get where I’m at, at this point. I’m going to have to work even harder to prove I’m first team.”
Give new U of L coach Scott Satterfield 22 guys with Becton’s talent and resolve, and no magazine would pick the Cardinals last in the ACC Atlantic. After shaking Becton’s size 3XL hands with a ferocious grip, I was hesitant to tell him what people are saying about his team.
Becton has always had the size, footwork, agility and power to be a dominant player, a guy who has started 22 games in his first two seasons for the Cards.
Becton turned down Jim Harbaugh and Michigan to play for Louisville. Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall has called Becton the biggest recruiting miss of his three-plus seasons at Virginia. Oregon also wanted him.
Now Satterfield and Cards’ offensive coordinator Dwayne Ledford have convinced Becton that the responsibility of becoming a great player includes demanding greatness from your teammates.
Becton was selected as the offensive line captain, which made him one of the upperclassmen on the team’s Ten Strong leadership council. That group connects the players and coaches. It also enforces the work ethic Satterfield and his staff expect.
“It’s a big step for me,” Becton said, “because I’ve never been a vocal leader. I lead by example.
“Coach Mike (Sirignano, U of L’s strength and conditioning coach) is teaching me to be a vocal leader so I’m telling guys what to do.”
And if guys don’t listen?
“I just come talk to you and tell you what you did wrong,” Becton said. “I wouldn’t yell at you. I’d just pull you to the side. I’m not one of those dudes (who yells at a player in front of teammates).”
And if somebody still doesn’t get it?
“Then I’d just come and pull you to the side again. I can tell the difference in the O-line room by the difference of me speaking. I’ve always been told that I have a voice so when I say little things, people will do it. I need to start using it.”
If Becton was not giggly to be named a second-team all-American, he was annoyed that nobody outside the locker room expected this team to win more than two, three or (at most) four games this season.
Becton understands the thinking. The Cards failed to win after Sept. 15 and spent the season waiting for their head coach to get dismissed. This team, Becton said, will not finish 2-10 or fail to compete.
“There’s a whole lot of difference from last year,” he said. “I just had a Ten Strong meeting, all the captains of each position group. We were just in there talking about how everybody is buying in.
“You can tell the difference in the weight room. We have the Juice Man, Top Dog boards. You can just tell the difference. Everybody comes in with a smile. You don’t usually see that. We can actually talk to our coaches now, So everything is really good
“Attitude. The weight gain/weight loss program is different. We have accountability They are more on us about that stuff. You can just tell a whole lot of difference. We work harder.
“Everything. You can tell a whole lot of difference and everyone is happier.”
What would make Becton giggly would be to upgrade the Cardinals to a winning season and to upgrade his status to first-team all-American.
He wants to put his name next to Joe Jacoby, Bruce Armstrong, Roman Oben, Jason Spitz, Eric Wood, Breno Giacomini and Jamon Brown, offensive linemen who did great things at Louisville and in the NFL.
“We’re going to shock a lot of people because we still have the talent that we had last year,” he said.
“We just couldn’t click. Everyone is not expecting us to be good this year but we’re going to shock a lot of people. I can’t wait.”
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