When Charlie Strong took over the reins at Louisville in 2010, it seemed a safe bet that the former Florida defensive coordinator would bring the hard-hitting, ball-hawking defense that won the Gators two national championships.
That has certainly proven to be the case as Strong has taken the Cardinals to bowl games in each of his first two seasons. Last year, Louisville finished in the top 15 nationally in both scoring and run defense.
One of the players who helped lead the turnaround is safety Hakeem Smith. As a freshman in Strong’s first season, he was named BIG EAST Rookie of the Year. Last year, he was first team All-BIG EAST.
In 2012, he is expected to emerge as a leader on the defensive unit that returns nine starters. Despite his quiet nature, Smith knows he will have to step up.
“If I was to ask anybody on the team who was the most accountable guy out there, it would have to be Hakeem,” junior linebacker Daniel Brown told USA Today. “Whether he speaks or not.”
The Cardinals lose senior leaders Greg Scruggs and Dexter Heyman from the defensive unit to graduation. Heyman was the only Cardinal to tally more tackles than Smith.
Louisville opens its season on Sunday, September 2 against in-state rival Kentucky. The Cardinals first BIG EAST game will be October 13 at Pittsburgh.