Cantwell's forte as Louisville QB is adaptability

jtipton@herald-leader.comAugust 29, 2008 

  • Mike Fields' blog: College recruiters should regret overlooking Louisville quarterback Hunter Cantwell when he was at Paducah Tilghman.

The question was simple and straightforward: What's the most important thing you'll want from starting quarterback Hunter Cantwell?

Louisville Coach Steve Kragthorpe named one thing, then another, then another. The cascade of responses reflected the demands placed on any quarterback and, perhaps, the coach's faith that Cantwell can meet the challenge.

"The biggest thing is managing the game," Kragthorpe said before adding, "being consistent, being accurate with the football, making good decisions.

"That's a lot of things," he acknowledged before adding, "But all those things encompass playing quarterback."

In Sunday's season opener against Kentucky, Cantwell is the experienced quarterback. He's played in 18 games, completing 92 of 157 passes (58.6 percent) and throwing for 10 touchdowns.

But that experience came in relief of Brian Brohm, who rates among U of L's career leaders in every meaningful statistical category.

Now Cantwell, an accomplished if unheralded player at Paducah Tilghman, is the man. He apparently looked the part in pre-season practice.

"He's managing the game well," Kragthorpe said of the workouts. "He's doing a great job of leading this offense and he's really taken control of the reins.

"And I really like the way he's approached it. ... He wants to be the leader of this football team, not just this offense, but the entire football team."

Cantwell, a 6-foot-5 senior, downplayed his leadership style in that we're-in-this-together approach which coaches love.

"It just comes with the position," he said. "You are the quarterback and you are in control of the huddle (and) you are making checks at the line."

Speaking of checks, Kragthorpe noted that U of L has emphasized being quicker in getting plays from the sideline to the huddle. The coach wants to give Cantwell the same freedom to audible he gave Brohm.

Although Cantwell has started only four games (none since the 2006 season), he said he feels comfortable in a leadership role with his teammates. He's been on the field with many of them under game conditions, and shared plenty of practice time.

Cantwell described his leadership style as vocal when necessary, and he welcomed the chance to share possession of the team.

"This is my team," he said. "This is the wide receivers' team. This is the offensive line's team. This is the running backs' team. Everyone works together and corrects things with each other."

Defensive tackle Earl Heyman vouched for Cantwell's ability to adapt to changing conditions.

"I play him in chess," Heyman said. "He's a critical thinker. I know that from experience because he has beat me twice."

Cantwell has noted how he did not deserve playing time when he arrived at Louisville. "When I came in as a freshman, I didn't have a clue," he said.

Since then, he's been tutored by three former college quarterbacks: Bobby Petrino, Jeff Brohm and Kragthorpe.

"Being a senior and having that maturity, I think I have come a long way since my freshman year, definitely," he said.

Cantwell showed a coolness under fire as a freshman when he replaced the injured Brian Brohm. In the Gator Bowl against No. 12 Virginia Tech, he threw for 216 yards and three touchdowns. He had his reversals (three interceptions while completing only 15 of 37 passes), but came out of the experience more sure about competing at a high level.

"Playing a good defense like that and seeing how fast and well-coached they were can get a little intimidating," he said. "But it also makes you realize that no one is invincible."

Cantwell spoke of the challenge he expects from Kentucky's defense.

"UK does have a very good defense, and that shows on tape," he said. "But you don't let that intimidate you."

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