How Malik Cunningham continues the Louisville legacy began by Teddy Bridgewater, Lamar Jackson

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Teddy Bridgewater, Lamar Jackson and Malik CunninghamLouisville quarterbacks previous and current — acquired collectively for the primary time in April at a wellness occasion for teenagers of their adopted metropolis. At first, none of them knew what to say, their naturally shy personalities making it laborious to be the primary to talk up.

Lastly, after a couple of minutes of awkwardly one another, Bridgewater and Jackson cracked a joke. Cunningham began laughing and away they went the remainder of the afternoon, teasing and cajoling and having enjoyable enjoying soccer with the girls and boys who’ve identified nothing however both Teddy, Lamar or Malik because the beginning quarterback repping the Cardinals.

What makes their presence vital is twofold: Nobody anticipated Bridgewater, Jackson and Cunningham to decide on Louisville, and in consequence town embraces them as in the event that they had been homegrown stars. Maybe extra significant is what they signify, each to the youngsters on the camp and the nation at massive: three elite Black quarterbacks beginning in close to succession for greater than a decade.

“It makes a press release within the metropolis of Louisville, us being the face of the college — that is one thing that is huge within the communities on the market the place they do not have a lot hope,” stated Bridgewater, a Miami Dolphins backup. “For us to have the ability to present an oz. of hope to a child down within the communities, whether or not it is the West Finish or completely different components of Louisville, that Teddy did it, Lamar did it, Malik is doing it, perhaps someday I can do it as effectively.”

When Cunningham takes the sector Friday towards Florida State (7:30 p.m., ESPN), he’ll take with him that legacy — one which unwittingly started when Bridgewater dedicated to then-coach Charlie Sturdy in 2010. Bridgewater, from South Florida, was alleged to go to Miami. However he took an opportunity on Sturdy and the imaginative and prescient Sturdy had about restoring Louisville’s soccer custom — particularly at quarterback.

Louisville has a protracted, proud historical past on the place — going again to Johnny Unitas, by way of Browning Nagle to Jeff Brohm, Chris Redman, Dave Ragone, Stefan LeFors and Brian Brohm. Bridgewater grew to become the starter his freshman season in 2011. As a sophomore, the Cardinals performed Florida within the Sugar Bowl — a sport wherein Louisville was not given a lot of an opportunity. Bridgewater threw for 266 yards and two scores throughout a 33-23 win however gained followers all over the place after an early hit knocked his helmet off, sending him to the turf.

Amongst these watching had been Jackson from his residence in South Florida and Cunningham from his in Alabama. Jackson was a sophomore in highschool, and the efficiency helped open his eyes to the probabilities at a spot like Louisville.

“We’re each South Florida guys and he was doing so great and performing how South Florida gamers do,” Jackson stated. “He was successful when he was there, so he had my eyes opened all through that course of.”

By the point Bridgewater was a junior in 2013, Louisville had change into a high 10 crew. The next spring, he was drafted within the first spherical by the Minnesota Vikings.

“You by no means actually know the impression you possibly can have, so I am glad I have been capable of set the tone or be the inspiration for what has come from Louisville quarterbacks,” Bridgewater stated.

When Jackson arrived in 2015, Bobby Petrino had taken over as Louisville coach. Although Bridgewater and Jackson by no means performed on the identical crew, the 2 developed a friendship over textual content messages — particularly as Jackson took off to unprecedented heights. In 2016, Jackson received the primary Heisman Trophy for Louisville after a exceptional sophomore season, gaining 4,657 whole yards whereas scoring 48 touchdowns.

Cunningham remembers watching Jackson the yr earlier than, particularly his efficiency throughout a 27-21 win over Texas A&M within the 2015 Music Metropolis Bowl. Jackson ran for a Music Metropolis Bowl-record 226 yards and scored 4 touchdowns. Cunningham dedicated to Louisville in April 2016, saying he felt he might maximize his potential within the Petrino offense, whereas additionally figuring out he would be taught behind Jackson as a freshman after which get an opportunity to begin.

When he arrived in 2017, Cunningham shared the identical quarterback room as Jackson and Jawon Move. “We had been throughout one another, you could not inform us aside, we’d all be collectively on a regular basis,” Cunningham stated.

He says they grew shut as a result of, “We had been younger Black quarterbacks attempting to achieve the final word purpose, which is to the NFL. Not many individuals make it to the NFL from my neighborhood. All of us come from the identical background. Mothers dominated in our lives. So it at all times felt proper to me to be round these guys and to look as much as these guys.”

Jackson says he knew Cunningham would find yourself being a particular participant after what he noticed in 2017. “He had lightning in a bottle,” Jackson stated. “He might take the ball the space every time he acquired that little lane. He needed to be taught, he needed to get higher, and it exhibits now.”

Like Bridgewater, Jackson grew to become a first-round decide, although each had been subjected to questions on whether or not their video games would translate on the skilled stage. Jackson has since received an MVP, however each have thrived general and have by no means forgotten the way in which Louisville made them really feel like certainly one of their very own. Their respective jersey numbers are discovered throughout town — particularly the No. 8 Jackson wears for the Baltimore Ravens.

As de facto Louisville ambassadors, Bridgewater and Jackson took half on this yr’s Derby Metropolis Reunion Weekend — an occasion held earlier than the Kentucky Derby — and it was vital for them to have Cunningham there with them.

“We all know there’s numerous followers on the market who look as much as us and so they admire what we did for his or her neighborhood, for town of Louisville, so it was a no brainer to go on the market and provides again as a result of me and Teddy love youngsters,” Jackson stated. “Regardless that we play for NFL groups, they nonetheless present love like we’re nonetheless enjoying for Louisville. It means lots to us.”

Now in his fourth yr because the full-time starter, Cunningham is aware of he has work forward of him. Final season, he joined Jackson because the second quarterback in class historical past to hurry for greater than 1,000 yards. He additionally led the ACC in speeding touchdowns (20), a mark that was ok to rank fourth nationally. His capability on the bottom has drawn comparisons to Jackson, although neither one essentially needs these comparisons to be made.

“He is his personal participant,” Jackson stated. “He is constructing his personal legacy, so let him do his factor. It is not about me, it is about Malik when he is on the market performing, similar to after I performed it wasn’t about Teddy. He has to give attention to being him, and being one of the best participant he could be.”

Whereas Bridgewater and Jackson each left college early to enter the NFL draft, Cunningham returned to Louisville for his closing season. He stated different faculties tried to lure him with NIL offers, however he needed to complete his profession in Louisville.

Thus far this season the outcomes have been combined. Within the opener towards Syracuse, Cunningham regarded tentative, staying within the pocket as an alternative of utilizing his working capability. Louisville scored solely seven factors. Cunningham had three turnovers and simply 34 yards speeding.

Final week in a come-from-behind win over UCF with 13 NFL scouts and Senior Bowl representatives in attendance, Cunningham regarded extra like himself, speeding for 121 yards and a rating. However he was off on his passes, finishing simply 48.3%.

Afterward, coach Scott Satterfield took the blame for what occurred towards Syracuse, saying, “We did not let him play his sport sufficient.” Actually, within the lead-up to the UCF sport, Satterfield pulled Cunningham apart and stated, “We’ll need to trip you.” Cunningham checked out him and stated, “Coach, that is what I need.”

The stakes are larger towards Florida State. Louisville can’t afford to begin the season 0-2 in Atlantic Division play, not with three different ranked groups from the division remaining on the schedule (Clemson, NC State, Wake Forest).

These across the program know that. Particularly Cunningham.

“I’ve simply acquired to win,” Cunningham stated. “The numbers are there. All people has stats, however it’s all concerning the wins. That is what the folks on the subsequent stage wish to see, the entrance places of work and the house owners and the GMs, they wish to see: Can I put collectively season and win?”

He is aware of Bridgewater and Jackson have finished that, setting not solely a basis for quarterback play, however the expectations that comply with.

“I really feel honored to be on this fraternity,” Cunningham stated. “You bought one Heisman Trophy already in that fraternity. We acquired a Sugar Bowl within the fraternity. My job proper now could be to convey again the ACC championship for our quarterbacks.”

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