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Strong support for U of L

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By Ryan Conley

New University of Louisville head football coach Charlie Strong brought an enthusiastic message of hope to more than 300 fans attending the Shelbyville leg of the annual Cardinal Caravan on Tuesday at the Shelby County Fairgrounds.

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Strong, who journeyed to Shelbyville along with a troop of Louisville coaches and players from other sports, told the mostly red-clad gathering that he aims to turn around the recent losing ways of the football Cardinals.

“When you get into a losing situation, people are always saying, you have to change the culture,” said Strong, who signed with Louisville last December after a long tenure as an assistant coach at the University of Florida. “How do you do that? You have to change the players and make them believe in themselves. When you lose, you have no confidence. So you have to build that confidence.”

Strong said the mind-shift is captured on players-only shirts displaying the acronym “CARDS” (commitment, attitude, respect, discipline and sacrifice).

“You have to be totally committed with the right attitude, have respect for yourself, have discipline to do what is right, and give of yourself to make a sacrifice,” Strong said. “That’s what our program is all about.”

One of many attendees wearing a “Cards Strong” shirt in support of the new football coach was R.C. Jones of Finchville, who like other Cardinals’ faithful, is hoping for a turnaround of the 15-21 record posted the last three seasons under former coach Steve Kragthorpe.

Jones said he likes the way Strong is handling himself in the early going, particularly in the area of recruiting.

“The recruiting is fantastic, because he is pulling down from where he is from there [Florida], and getting local kids that no one is looking at,” Jones said. “Hometown kids will pay for the hometown team.”

Among the players present was Shelbyville’s Jarred Clarkson, a freshman outfielder on the Cardinals’ baseball team, which opens NCAA Tournament play Friday at 6 p.m. against St. Louis University in the regional being held in Louisville at Jim Patterson Stadium.

“We’d love to see some Shelbyville folks out there,” said Clarkson, who has seen limited action this season for the 48-12 Cardinals.

Others Cardinals attending the event included Shelbyville’s Candice Wiley, a member of the women’s golf team; Austen Childs, men’s tennis player who was runner-up in NCAA championship singles action; Walter McCarty, assistant men’s basketball coach; Ken Lolla, men’s soccer coach; Mark Beckham, women’s tennis coach; Ryan Wochomurka, assistant coach for swimming and diving; Matt Lawicki, assistant lacrosse coach; Rex Ecarma, men’s tennis coach; Pam Bustin, field hockey coach; and Jeff Walz, women’s basketball coach.

Walz said he was working to bring back winning ways to the women’s basketball program, which stumbled to a 14-18 record last season after finishing the previous campaign with a 34-5 mark and a runner-up finish in the NCAA Tournament to perennial powerhouse the University of Connecticut.

One of those players Walz said he is counting on is highly-touted incoming freshman Antonita Slaughter, a Shelbyville resident who played her high school ball at Christian Academy of Louisville. “We are thrilled to have her with us,” Walz said.

The Shelbyville event was the final of six stops on the Cardinal Caravan journey, which included trips to Owensboro, Louisville, Covington, Elizabethtown and Starlight, Ind.