Experience will help Travis Leffew this season

August 18, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

Few Division I offensive linemen on bowl-bound teams get to start as true freshmen. Not many even get the chance as redshirt freshmen because of the experience and physical strength it takes to play in the interior line.

Travis Leffew was one of those few freshmen who got that chance last year at the University of Louisville. However, starting at left tackle as a redshirt freshman came with a price. Leffew struggled early in the season and several times his miscues resulted in quarterback Dave Ragone being hit and/or sacked.

"Everybody gets to the point where you think you are not doing very well, but you just have to get beyond that," said the former Boyle County all-state lineman. "You are going to give up one (sack) here and there. You just have to come back with the effort that you are going to come back and do better."

Leffew even admits that he sometimes wondered if he should have stayed in the defensive line, where his brother, Bobby, plays for the Cardinals. That's the position he wanted to play in college before then-Louisville coach John L. Smith convinced him that his best chance to help the Cardinals and possibly make the National Football League was to switch to offense.


"The thought did go through my mind at times that I should be on defense. I still have the defensive attitude and love to play defense. But you play where they put you and where you may have a chance to move to the next level," Leffew said, one of only two offensive linemen to start every game last season.

"Last year was the biggest learning year I've ever had. The speed of the game was so much different even from practice and there is so much to learn every week. You have to prepare so hard, but just having one year of actual college football playing experience and knowing the atmosphere of college football is really going to help me. Another year of building strength, increasing speed and learning the game has to make me better."

Leffew spent much of the offseason working to improve his techniques, watching game film to see what opposing defenses do and trying to enhance his hand and eye movement.

"We would also run through plays we know and get stuff like that down when the players could get together," Leffew said.

What he didn't know is who will replace Ragone as Louisville's quarterback this year. It could be Stefan LeFors or Justin Rascati. Or it might be true freshman Michael Bush, last year's Kentucky's Mr. Football.

"It's not that much of a difference to me. It's more how we blend with the quarterback," Leffew said. "The relationship between you and the quarterback is one that has to work. We all hang out and do things together. Our offensive line will be comfortable with any of them.

"Dave brought a lot of things to our offense. He was a very talented player, perhaps as good as any quarterback in the country last year. You can't replace him. What we have to do is all pick up the slack for losing him. If we do that, we can be successful and maybe even better than we were last year."

Not only did Louisville go to its fifth straight bowl game last year, but the Cardinals also upset then-No. 4 Florida State at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in a nationally televised game on ESPN.

"Beating Florida State was one of the neatest things I've ever done," Leffew said. "We were not even ranked at the time because of our early loss to Kentucky. But then everybody got to see us beat Florida State."

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