LOUISVILLE — Louisville Coach Charlie Strong looked to the Sunshine State in hopes of refurbishing his program's depleted talent pool.
The Cardinals signed 20 players on Wednesday, including 13 from Florida. Strong has deep ties with that state, going back to when he was an assistant coach with the University of Florida.
But he said it wasn't his influence that allowed Louisville to gain quality recruits.
Instead, he credited defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt's tireless efforts in the Miami area with the Cardinals being able to lure some of the city's top players to a school over 1,000 miles away from home.
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"This is his recruiting class because of the number of guys he had," Strong said.
The class is highlighted by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater from Northwestern High in Miami. Getting a commitment from the 6-foot-4, 180-pound Bridgewater started a domino effect that ended up with seven other players from the city signing with Louisville.
"When we were able to get Teddy, he had so many friends in south Florida ... all those guys played against each other and grew up in (Pop Warner) together," Strong said.
Two of Bridgewater's teammates, safety Jermaine Reve and wide receiver Eli Rogers, also signed with the Cardinals. Bridgewater and Reve are already enrolled in school.
Strong also landed some homegrown talent, signing 6-foot-3 receiver DeVante Parker from Ballard. Parker's job will be to help kick-start an offense that struggled making plays down the field last season.
Strong said there will be plenty of opportunities for the incoming class to get on the field next fall. Louisville played 11 true freshmen last year and has major holes to fill, particularly along the offensive line.
"They all think they're going to play and they all think they're going to start," Strong said with a laugh.
This signing day was decidedly less stressful than last season, when Strong had a month to come up with a plan after taking over for Steve Kragthorpe.
"We took a list and guys were just running all over the place," Strong said. "We were calling guys committed to other programs trying to get them to change their minds. This year we knew who we were going to recruit."
Even if it meant going after players who were inclined to play elsewhere. Louisville signed defensive end Bryant Dubose from Northeast High in Oakland Park, Fla., even though Dubose told the Cardinals repeatedly in the fall he was planning to sign with Miami.
"He wasn't interested," Strong said. "He visited here. He visited Miami. He kind of said he wanted to go to Miami or whatever. Coach Hurtt is so relentless (he wouldn't give up)."
It's that kind of persistence Strong said is necessary to continue to rebuild the program. Louisville went a surprising 7-6 in Strong's first season and he believes the foundation is in place for the Cardinals to continue their resurgence.
"We are a BCS school, that's what we are," Strong said. "For us to go and recruit against a Miami or a Florida, that should be expected of this school. It has to be expected in order for this program to move forward."
WKU has top Sun Belt class
Western Kentucky University signed 26 players Wednesday, a class rated No. 1 in the Sun Belt Conference, according to Rivals.com.
Both of Coach Willie Taggart's recruiting classes have now topped the league.
Eleven of the 26 players earned three-star ratings, an all-time high for the program.
WKU signed players from eight states, including 12 from Florida.
"This is a great day, because we are continuing to dramatically upgrade our program," Taggart said. "We targeted specific individuals at multiple position groups, and each of these guys we signed today will immediately make us more competitive."
The Hilltoppers went to work on their offensive and defensive lines, bringing in six recruits on each side of the ball. The class also included three running backs, three tight ends, two defensive backs, two linebackers, two quarterbacks and two wide receivers.
The signing class does not include defensive back Jonathan Dowling of Bradenton, Fla., who recently transferred to WKU and is enrolled in classes. Dowling, who originally signed with Florida, was rated a consensus four-star player by multiple recruiting services in 2010.
EKU signs 21
Eastern Kentucky Coach Dean Hood announced the signing of 21 players Wednesday, four from the state.
The class includes five defensive backs, four wide receivers, three quarterbacks, three defensive linemen, three linebackers, two offensive linemen and a kicker.
The Colonels were 6-5 (5-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference) in 2010, and they won their last four games to finish tied for second in the OVC. There were 13 seniors on the 2010 squad, including seven starters.
Murray still adding players
Murray State Coach Chris Hatcher announced the signing of 16 players Wednesday, plus six players who have already enrolled.
The group includes nine on offense, 12 on defense and one athlete. Six players are from Kentucky, four from Georgia, three from Tennessee and three from Mississippi.
"This is the end of one recruiting period," said Hatcher, who went 6-5 in his first season at Murray State last year and lost 14 seniors from that team. "This afternoon starts a whole new period for us. We will continue to recruit and beat the bushes. I expect us to sign two or three more players to this class over the course of the next couple weeks."