LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville coach Charlie Strong put special emphasis on bolstering his defense, trying to build on the Cardinals' successful run to a Sugar Bowl championship.
Ten of the 17 players Strong signed Wednesday play on the defensive side of the ball, including five in the secondary. Eight of the 17 signees are from Florida, as Strong continued to have a strong presence in that state.
But the biggest name was on offense, and from the Cardinals' backyard: Wide receiver James Quick is believed to be Louisville's highest-rated recruit ever.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound speedster finished his Trinity High School career as the state's all-time leader in receptions, leading the Shamrocks to three championships. Quick was selected as Kentucky's Mr. Football and MVP of the U.S. Army All-American game, and ranked by Scout.com as the country's 21st-best player.
The Cardinals stunned Florida 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl to cap an 11-2 season. The Big East champions enter what is expected to be the school's final season in the conference before moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.
"You wanted a big name and to get a big name like Quick was something special," Strong said of Quick's Jan. 5 verbal commitment during the All-American game. Quick chose Louisville over Ohio State and coach Urban Meyer, Strong's former boss at Florida.
Louisville's large core of returning players forced Strong to be selective in offering limited scholarships.
"Even though this class is small in number, these players will make a great contribution to this program in the near future," he said.
The Cardinals also stayed in-state for Lexington Catholic's Kyle Bolin. The 6-3, 185-pound quarterback injured his knee midway through his senior year but is expected to compete, along with fellow signee Brett Nelson, for the backup spot to junior star Teddy Bridgewater.
"We always want to control this city before we go anywhere else — actually, this state," Strong said. "Then we have to go off and recruit other places just because of the limited number of players within the state."
All eight of Louisville's signees from Florida are slotted for defense. Richard Benjamin of Tampa and Chucky Williams from Hialeah played both ways in high school but are listed as cornerbacks. They join University of Florida transfer Willie Bailey as the Cardinals look to replace graduating All-Big East corner Adrian Bushell, another Gators transfer.
Bailey will sit out the 2013 season per NCAA transfer rules. He, Middleton, Nelson enrolled last month and will be able to practice this spring.
Defensive end De'Asian Richardson from Jacksonville was one of Louisville's first commitments following the Sugar Bowl win and is one of three defensive linemen in the class.
"We had notoriety but then that game just really put us out there," Strong said of the win over then-No. 4 Florida. "We just didn't go out there and mess around. We beat that team and I think that gained more respect than anything."
Strong added that signing an eight-year, $29.6 million contract extension last month and Louisville's move to the ACC provided the stability needed to ink a strong recruiting class and "lets them know that I'm making a commitment to this program and I'm going to be here for the long haul."