Where’s the beef?
Louisville’s Jake Smith and Southern Miss’s Seth Reedy, both offensive linemen and both from Calhoun County, won’t play in the game. Smith redshirted this season, and Reedy grayshirted.
But both players are looking forward to life after Tuesday’s game in St. Petersburg, Fla., because both are on schedule for career breakthroughs after this season.
“It’s been great,” said Smith, the former Jacksonville High School standout who’s in St. Petersburg with Louisville’s team.
Reedy, a key player in Piedmont’s Class 3A state title run in 2009, could not travel with Southern Miss’ team by rule.
“But I’m glad I came here,” he said from his off-campus apartment in Hattiesburg, Miss. “I like the people here. It’s been a great experience.”
Smith appears to be on the fastest track.
Louisville has eight seniors on its offensive line depth chart, so no scout-team work for Smith this season. He has worked with the offense and traveled with the team.
“I’ve learned from them,” he said of Louisville’s senior linemen. “They haven’t been in any rush to throw me in there or something. I’ve gotten a lot of good reps and good opportunities to learn the system.”
Smith has also gotten significantly stronger this season, upping his bench press from 255 pounds at six reps to 315.
“I’ve been shaping up and bulking up,” he said. “I’ve been trying to transfer some baby fat into muscle.”
A hand injury has kept Smith off the practice field during Louisville’s bowl preparations in St. Petersburg. He underwent surgery Tuesday, and his activity is limited to conditioning while the Cardinals practice.
He still gets to enjoy the spoils of bowl travel.
“Down here, they give us money to go out and eat,” Smith said. “St. Petersburg is nice place with a lot of good restaurants.”
Things get serious again after the bowl game, when Smith works toward filling a vacated slot on the offensive line. It’s all work toward the very near future.
“Next year, I’ll be ready to come in and play,” he said.
Reedy hopes for the same at Southern Miss, but an offseason back injury prompted the Golden Eagles’ coaching staff to shut him down in August.
He was working out in Birmingham over the summer when he suffered a herniated disc, the same injury that sidelined him during his sophomore season at Piedmont.
“When I re-injured it, I could hardly walk,” he said. “I was on crutches for a little bit.”
Reedy underwent two epidurals and said he felt better after the second, but doctors determined he needed surgery to reverse 80 percent blockage of his spine.
Reedy and Southern Miss’ coaching staff agreed on a grayshirt plan, which meant a fall with no school or football. He sat out of school rather than paying his way for the semester. He spent most of his time rehabbing the injury.
He lives off-campus with tight end Zeke Walters, who made the Conference USA all-freshman team.
“It’s been kind of disappointing, seeing him play and me not get to play,” Reedy said.
Reedy also couldn’t make the trip to St. Petersburg, and he’s not allowed to share in the bowl swag. It’s all motivation for life after the game.
He begins spring-semester classes and offseason workouts with Southern Miss’s team in January. He’ll still have five years to play four.
“I planned to get redshirted this year,” he said. “Most linemen coming in as freshmen, you have to get into the system, get bigger and stronger. People don’t realize how much of a change from high school to college. It’s ridiculously faster.
“It’s been pretty stressful not being able to play at all but I’ll be back in the spring, I hope to be second string and not to get redshirted.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.