Free-falling from 11,000 feet one afternoon in mid-July, John L. Smith wouldn't pull his rip cord. The 53-year-old Cardinals coach and rookie sky diver, who enjoys life by pushing it to the limit (he has also run with the bulls in Pamplona), had already fallen 5,000 feet, but he ignored instructors yelling at him to pull the cord. "I guess I was enjoying the ride a little too much," says Smith, who landed safely thanks to an instructor who pulled the cord for him.
Expect Smith and Louisville to have a similarly exciting ride this season. Coming off an 11-2 season, the Cardinals have high hopes with Heisman Trophy candidate Dave Ragone (3,056 yards, 23 TDs in 2001) at quarterback and 10 starters returning from an underappreciated defense. A Sept. 26 home game against Florida State has Louisville setting its sights on making another big jump, to BCS contender.
With the pass-happy offense forced to replace four starters on the line and two receivers, defense is Louisville's strength. The 4-3 unit has become a fast, blitzing, ball-hawking group that ranked 10th in the country last season in scoring defense (17.9 ppg). The star is 6'3", 277-pound junior end Dewayne White, last year's Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. White uses a combination of quickness and strength to get to the quarterback. Last season he was second in the nation with 15 sacks. "He doesn't know any better," says senior end Devon Thomas. "Coach will say, 'I need you to take out the center, the fullback and make the tackle, too.' He'll say, 'Yes sir,' and do it."
If White can get his teammates to adopt that attitude, Louisville should be in for an exciting ride.