Louisville turning football success into recruiting prowess

USA TODAY Sports

A chance at an undefeated season and a move to a better conference has recruits excited.

If you see smoke coming from Louisville, don't worry. Churchill Downs is not burning. It's just Charlie Strong's Cardinals blazing a recruiting trail.

Louisville followed up its great 2012 season with a somewhat disappointing recruiting class. It was odd for a team that won 11 games and embarrassed the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl, particularly one moving up to a much better conference.

Now we see that the recruiting results weren't unrealized, they were just delayed. The Cardinals are yet to land a four-star commitment, but several of their 13 (yes, 13 as of May 15) commitments have a strong chance to get a bump in the ratings. And Louisville has never been a team under Charlie Strong that waits to offer a recruit because the recruiting services are slow to grade his true ability. The Cardinals trust their evaluations.

The major needs in the 2014 class are the defensive line, linebacker and running back.

Commitments since the spring game: Isaiah Ford, De'Eric Culver, Detric Dukes, Nilijiah Ballew, Jared McCray, George Rushing, Desean Blair, Marques Gayot and Kavaris Harkless.

Current verbal commitments

Isaiah Ford, Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian Academy: Ford is a talented reciever. At 6'2 and 170 pounds, he needs to fill out but has very good ball skills, and his basketball background is evident. Ford is a consensus three-star recruit, but will likely end up as a four-star.

Michael Johnson, Hialeah (Fla.) Champagnat Catholic: Johnson is a very big safety at 6'3 and 195 pounds, and he has the frame to hold much more than that. He's a physical player who is better against the run than in coverage. Johnson has some definite ability, and Louisville will have a fight on its hands to keep him as other schools offer throughout the process. Johnson is a consensus three-star recruit.

De'Eric Culver, Tallahassee (Fla.) Amos P. Godby High School: Charlie Strong wants to play more press coverage, and in Culver, he has a physical corner to do just that. The consensus three-star is a solid 6'0 and 180 pounds.

Detric Dukes, Tucker (Ga.) High School: Dukes is a physical inside linebacker. He's a bit undersized at 6'0, but he can be a solid player if put in position to use his talents and minimize his weaknesses. Dukes is a consensus three-star recruit.

Nilijah Ballew, Cincinnati (Oh.) Walnut Hills High School: Ballew is a safety recruit with good size and range. At 6'1 and 180 pounds, he is a consensus three-star recruit.

Reggie Bonnafon, Louisville (Ky.) Trinity School: Bonnafon is a talented dual-threat QB. The local product is capable inside the pocket and can hurt teams with his legs, as well. He has adequate size at 6'2 and 195 pounds and he holds a consensus three-star rating.

Jared McCray, Minford (Oh.) High School: some high school tackles need a redshirt to add size. At 6'4 and 300 pounds, McCray is already plenty big and should be able to contribute early in his career. The consensus three-star tackle also held offers from Akron, Kent State and Ohio.

George Rushing, Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) Cardinal Gibbons: Rushing is solid. Living in Florida, I've seen him in person many times. Nothing about his game blows me away, but he's not a bad player, either. And importantly, as a probable role player, he has a good attitude and isn't going to sulk if the ball doesn't come his way all the time. The 6'1, 185-pound Rushing is a consensus three-star player.

Desean Blair, Jacksonville (Fla.) Sandalwood High School: Blair is quite raw but has some tools to work with at the receiver position. At 6'4 and 185 pounds, the consensus three-star can be a big target.

Marques Gayot, Lake Worth (Fla.) Park Vista Community: Gayot is another physical safety who can drop down in the box and capably play against the run. At 6'1 and 205 pounds, he is a three-star recruit.

Micky Crum, Columbus (OH) Hamilton Township High School: Crum is a tight end who, at 6'3 and 245 pounds, should eventually be an asset with his hand in the dirt, particularly on the goal line. He is a consensus three-star.

Kavaris Harkless, Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian Academy: Harkless is a developmental offensive tackle project at 6'5 and 270 pounds. After a redshirt year and a learning year, Louisville may have something in Harkless.

Jeff Williams, Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln High School: Williams is an active three-star linebacker at 6'1 and 200 pounds.

Top targets

Matt Elam, Elizabethown (Ky.) John Hardin High School: Elam is a massive defensive tackle project at 6'6 and 342 pounds. He claims an Alabama offer, but the main competition for Louisville will be Kentucky.

Darius West, Lima (Oh.) Central Catholic: West is a promising safety recruit with big hitting ability and range. The 6'0, 195-pound West is a consensus four-star recruit. Louisville's major competition for West is likely their hated rival, the Kentucky Wildcats.

Brandon Lee, Indianapolis (In.) Lawrence Central High School: Lee is a talented linebacker. The consensus four-star checks in at 6'3 and 215 pounds, and Louisville seems to be the favorite to land his commitment.

Daniel Cage, Cincinnati (Oh.) Winton Woods High School: Cage is a consensus four-star defensive tackle recruit at 6'3 and 295 pounds. Louisville seems to have a strong shot to land him.

Alin Edouard, Hialeah (Fla.) High School: Edouard is a solid three-star quarterback prospect out of South Florida. While listed at 6'1 and 180 pounds, Edouard is considered one of the top-30 quarterback recruits nationally. He is currently committed to Miami.

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