Jake Smith is majoring in economics and minoring in finance at Louisville, but the sophomore is still working out what he might do with his education.
There’s the possibility of law school, but “I kind of want to get maybe an investments background or something like that,” he said.
If Smith becomes an investment adviser, then buy. His football fortunes show his eye for a good investment.
The former Jacksonville High standout took a chance on a new coach and a rebuilding program. After a redshirt year and two playing season’s, he’s set to make his 26th consecutive start in a Bowl Championship Series bowl.
Thanks to Louisville’s recently announced conference switch, Smith could also get a chance to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference as early as his junior season.
And that coach who lured Smith seven hours from his home? Charlie Strong sent Tennessee’s plane back to Knoxville with his seat empty.
Indeed, with Louisville (10-2) eyeing its All-State Sugar Bowl showdown with Florida (11-1) on Jan. 2, Smith bought into Cardinal action at a good time. And to think, he once seemed headed for lesser investments.
His top choices were UAB and Central Florida, and Louisville wasn’t in the picture. He had been on Alabama’s recruiting board, just not at the top.
“I was kind of like their second choice, behind a couple of big-time recruits,” he said. “When one of those recruits committed, they weren’t able to offer me a scholarship.”
But then-Alabama graduate assistant Mike Groh went to Louisville as quarterbacks coach, and Groh put Smith’s name on Louisville’s recruiting board.
“He said the Alabama coaches thought highly enough of me and keep me in their thoughts and on their boards and stuff, so we might as well as give him an offer here,” Smith said of Groh, who left Louisville after one season to rejoin Alabama’s staff as wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. “Luckily, they did.”a
Once Smith looked into Louisville’s situation, he found a veteran offensive line. Four starters and eight members of the playing rotation would be gone by the start of his redshirt freshman season.
It seemed like a good investment.
“It has turned out for the best,” he said.
By the time Smith reached his first playing season, Louisville had begun its revival. He was a starter on the 2011 team that went 7-6 and lost to North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl.
This season, Louisville and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater played their way onto the national radar. The Cardinals won their first nine games and climbed to as high as a No. 11 ranking before losing two games.
“We started seeing glimpses of it in the spring, but that’s speculation, and it didn’t really come to fruition until this season,” Smith said. “When we played Kentucky, we really knew, kind of, what we had, just to be able to come out and play like we did (won 32-14).
“Then, you start out 1-0 and then 3-0 and then 5-0 and just keep on rolling, and it’s real fun. It’s even better when you don’t really know what’s going to happen, and things fall your way.”
Their season came down to a road showdown with Rutgers, with the Big East Conference’s BCS berth on the line. Wrist and ankle injuries kept Bridgewater from starting, but he came on to lead the Cardinals back from a 14-3 deficit to win 20-17.
“There was a lot of pressure in that game, for sure,” Smith said. “It was a big-time atmosphere, big-time teams. It was fun.”
With success comes coaching speculation, and Strong’s name surfaced in SEC searches. First came reports that he interviewed for the Auburn job then his near-certain departure for Tennessee.
Strong announced Dec. 6 that he would stay.
“The possibility of Coach Strong leaving was kind of tough, just because of the way everything happened, him coming to Louisville and recruiting me,” Smith said. “But, it’s his own personal decision, and I’ve made my roots in Louisville.
“I’ve made a lot of friends and connections here that I’ll cherish the rest of my life, so I wasn’t going to want to leave or anything, if he did.”
Louisville athletics director Tom Jurich said the school was “not an underdog” to keep Strong, and the pending move to the ACC, announced Nov. 28, strengthened the school’s hand.
“It’s definitely a big step for our program, to play a higher level of completion and being able to go out there and really play for a viable conference,” Smith said. “I think the Big East is kind of imploding right now, especially with all of the basketball schools trying to get out.
“It’s perfect timing, and it’s a cherry on top for this program.”
With a dream regular season and early-December dramas behind the Cardinals, focus turns to their shot at SEC member Florida in the Sugar Bowl. They began practice Thursday.
Smith grew up in SEC country, as an Auburn fan, and knows well what it means for Louisville to play a major bowl against the conference that has produced the past six national champions.
“This going to be a monumental moment in the program’s history, and it means the world,” Smith said. “If you come out and compete and play to the best of your ability, you can even shock the world. It really gives you confidence and changes the national perspective of you.
“It’s huge. It really means everything, because it can either be that this team is for real, a for-real competitor and a real contender, or just another run-of-the-mill conference team compared to this SEC powerhouse.”
The Cardinals need no extra motivation, but there’s plenty wafting around their camp.
“Realistically, there’s not really too many people outside of our complex … that thinks we’re going to win the game,” Smith said. “Even people’s parents don’t think we’re going to win. They just think it’s nice that we got there.
“We just have to go into it with the mindset that we have to come out and play to the best of our ability, and this is really going to be to prove who we are and what we can do.”
Meanwhile, Smith’s life two states north of home keeps getting better. Girlfriend Liz is a Louisville product, and he just joined a fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
He also has two more years to become a four-year starter for a rising program with the coach who recruited him firmly entrenched. It sure seems Smith knows a good investment when he sees one.
“It’s worked,” he said. “Maybe that will be a recurring theme over the course of my life.”