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September 19, 2012
When Louisville flies to Miami to take on Florida International Saturday night, there is more on the line than just another victory.
Yes, there's the revenge factor as Louisville will be looking to get the Panthers back for last season's 24-17 loss.
But there's also the recruiting factor. Louisville's coaching staff recruits heavily in the Miami area. In fact, there may be more current and future Louisville recruits at the game Saturday than Louisville fans.
"There are so many athletes down there in that state," UofL coach Charlie Strong said. "A large number of them don't even get a chance to get looked at because there's just so many. We always feel like we have an advantage because ... of the ties we have - we have so many guys on this coaching staff that have coached in Florida and recruited Miami. So you already have a built-in relationship with the high school coaches."
Louisville has been recruiting the state of Florida hard since 1985 when Howard Schnellenberger came to Louisville after a national championship at Miami in 1983 and a brief stint in the USFL. Schnellenberger targeted South Florida and brought a slew of future NFL stars to Louisville from the Sunshine State.
That trend of recruiting Florida continued during the Ron Cooper and John L. Smith eras but was super-charged by Bobby Petrino, who used his ties from his days in the NFL in Jacksonville to hit the state hard on the recruiting trail.
But no coach in Louisville history has recruited Florida harder than Strong. With 33 current players from the state, including 26 from the greater Miami area, a third of the Cardinals' roster is from Florida and half the depth chart are Floridians.
Florida International has its share of Miami players, too. In fact, the two schools have a combined 21 players from four Miami high schools - Northwestern, Central, Southridge and Norland.
"Those are big-time programs in that area," said senior tight end Nate Nord, a native of Boca Raton, just north of Miami. "There is just so much talent in such a small area there.... They have all played against each other since they were kids."
After FIU upset Louisville last season, the Panthers' coaching staff used the game to sell recruits on the benefits of staying home. The Cardinals need to make a statement in Miami Saturday night.
Recruiting Miami will take more than beating FIU. Strong said he has to get recruits to think of Louisville differently than the rolling hills and horse farms they think of when Kentucky is mentioned.
"A lot of them think it's country," Strong said, laughing. "Like I remember talking to Teddy (Bridgewater) for the first time and he said, 'Am I going to see a bunch of horses?' I said, 'No, you're going to see a city.' Now, if we go to the outskirts we'll see some really nice horse farms, or to Churchill Downs, but this is a city. (Freshman linebacker James) Burgess was the same way. That's their mentality because it's Kentucky."
The Sunshine State has been very, very good to Louisville over the years. Eight of Louisville's 17 current alumni playing in the NFL are from Florida, including $14 million-a-year defensive end Elvis Dumervil with the Denver Broncos from Miami, New York Jets running back Bilal Powell from Tampa and Jacksonville Jaguars center Jason Spitz from Jacksonville.
"I think it started for me wit guys like (Miami natives) Nate Harris and Elvis Dumervil," sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. "Those guys had success up here, and even guys like Willie Williams who came up to Louisville. We just hear about other guys coming up here, and younger guys hear about us coming up here."
Of former UofL players now retired from the NFL, four-time Pro Bowl DT Ted Washington is from Tampa, four-time Pro Bowl DB Sam Madison is from Tallahassee and six-time Pro Bowl OT Bruce Armstrong is from Miami.