Notebook: Louisville expects big things from Florida transfers
Published: Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 12:05 a.m.
NEW ORLEANS — Florida transfers Robert Clark and Gerald Christian made the trip to the Big Easy with their new team even though they are ineligible to play this season. Both figure big in Louisville's future plans, Cardinals' offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said Saturday.
“Both those kids will be great players,” Watson said.
Clark, a wide receiver, and Christian, a tight end, were high school teammates with Florida All-America safety Matt Elam. Clark and Christian made the decision last season to transfer and are sitting out this season per NCAA transfer rules.
Watson said he has kept the two involved in the offense this season in practice because they will be major contributors in 2013.
“We've actually kept both of those guys in a portion of our practice so that we keep them developed and have them ready in a year,” Watson said. “Robert is going to play an inside slot for us,” Watson said. “He's got explosive speed and is a sure-handed catcher and he's a tough guy, too. I love what I see of him.
“Gerald is going to be a great tight end. Gerald is a heck of a football player. And Robert is, too. They have football in their blood, and they play at a high level.”
Both cited a lack of playing time as their main reason for deciding to leave Florida and transfer to Louisville. Clark and Christian were part of Urban Meyer's final recruiting class at UF.
Elam said he remains close friends with Clark and Christian and that he even made a trip to Louisville early in the summer to spend some time with them.
“I communicate with them every day,” Elam said. “We have a good friendship. It was tough coming in with them and seeing them leave, but it's something you deal with.”
Recruiting force in Florida
Christian and Clark have plenty of Florida company at Louisville. The Cardinals have 34 players on their roster from Florida, and the state is a recruiting priority for former UF defensive coordinator Charlie Strong and his staff.
“It's been huge for us,” Watson said. “Charlie, obviously with his background, and a number of our assistant coaches are from and have experience in Florida recruiting. There are a lot of strong ties with our staff to the high school coaches and the community of coaches down there.
“So, it's been huge for us. We have 34 players from Florida. Those kids are the kids that have turned around our program.”
Floyd, Elam mum
Although many consider it a given that junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will announce for the NFL Draft sometime after Wednesday's game, he said Saturday he still hasn't made up his mind what he's going to do.
“No, I haven't made a decision,” he said. “I haven't sat down with my coaches and talked about that yet. Right now, we're just focusing on Louisville. I haven't talked to anybody about the NFL.
“I'm just getting ready for this game. On Jan. 3, we'll talk about it. I'm not locked into anything yet.”
Elam, who also is strongly considering declaring for the draft, would not comment.
“I'm not saying anything about that,” he said.
Elam, however, did say he will rely on input from his brother, NFL safety Abe Elam, before making his decision.
“I talk to Abe every day. He gives me advice every day,” Elam said. “I'm blessed to have him. He's helped me out with a lot of things. I feel I couldn't do it without him.”
Elam comes full circle
The last time the Gators played in the Sugar Bowl three years ago, Elam was a high school star in limbo. After Urban Meyer resigned (for a day), Elam backed out of his UF commitment and pledged to FSU. Not long after Meyer announced he would be returning after a leave of absence, Elam came back to UF and signed with the Gators in February.
Looking back, Elam said everything has worked out fine.
“I'm satisfied,” he said. “I'm with the guys I wanted to be with, the guys I came in with. I enjoyed my time. I feel like the adverse situations helped me grow, just dealing with tough situations.”
Watch out for this Gator
When Elam was asked if there were any young defensive players who had a chance to be future stars, the first player he mentioned was true freshman cornerback Brian Poole, who has played on special teams this season.
“He's doing a lot of things this year. He's shown some great things,” Elam said. “He can play any position in the secondary. I feel like he'll get a chance and take advantage of it and make the coaches play him.”
Elam also mentioned true sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy.
“He's going to be great,” Elam said.
Decision a statement
Tennessee was stunned when Strong turned down the offer to become the Vols new head coach, but the Louisville players were not surprised at all by Strong's decision to stay, senior center Mario Benavides said.
“With the way he spoke to us about it, we never really had any doubt,” Benavides said. “But it is a business; we did understand that.
“Him making the decision to stay, I think kind of changed how we look at the program. We're positive he wants to build and stay here (long term). His girls are in high school in Louisville and love it. His wife loves it. We're definitely confident about him staying and making this program his own and creating a new tradition at Louisville.”
Big East or Big Least?
It sounds like the Louisville players want to turn Wednesday's Sugar Bowl game into a Big East vs. SEC battle for conference pride.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who is from Miami and grew up a Gator fan, said he's confident Louisville would have the same success it's had this season if the Cardinals were in the SEC.
“No doubt,” Bridgewater said.
Bridgewater said Wednesday's game will give the Cardinals a chance to prove the point.
“It's a statement game,” he said. “We've been considered the Big Least. The Big East gets no respect. This is a chance to earn it.”