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August 14, 2012

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Henryville grad playing football at U of L

Uhl makes team without high school program

LOUISVILLE — Griffin Uhl’s parents knew he would be playing football at the University of Louisville last spring, but it didn’t seem real until a couple weeks ago when they got to see him at practice.

“To see him in any Louisville gear was just pretty phenomenal,” Linda Uhl, Griffin’s mother, said. “It was when it really hit totally home.”

Making an NCAA Division I college football team is pretty phenomenal in itself. But when you consider Griffin Uhl went to Henryville Junior/Senior High School, which doesn’t have a football program, it’s that much more astonishing.

Griffin Uhl played community league football since he was in middle school. He dreamed of playing in college, but he knew colleges don’t send scouts to community league football games. He started going to football camps and combines and quickly realized he could compete with, and beat kids from bigger high schools with established football programs. He was consistently recognized as one of the best defensive linemen at every camp and combine he went to.

But when it came to playing at the next level, the offers were underwhelming. Coaches showed interest, but none were willing to offer him a scholarship.

National signing day came and went and schools that had once expressed interest stopped contacting him. Except for U of L.

Griffin Uhl caught the eye of defensive line coach Clint Hurtt during the U of L camp. Hurtt stayed in touch with him and though he couldn’t offer him a scholarship, encouraged him to join the team as a preferred walk-on. Hurtt was pleased with Griffin Uhl’s decision to join the Cardinals.

“I’m excited to have Griffin as a part of our team,” Hurtt said. “Griffin hasn’t played organized football so he is very raw. But he is definitely strong and has a high work ethic.”

Louisville coach Charlie Strong doesn’t allow freshmen to be interviewed. But Linda Uhl said her son’s strength is surprising people.

“The things I know, during strength and conditioning, when they had their 225 test of their reps, Griffin, of all the players, had the most reps,” she said, referring to the 225-pound bench press repitition tests used to measure strength at the college and pro levels. “Thirty-five [reps] at 225, I believe.”

For comparison, the top three performers in bench press at the 2012 NFL combine got 44, 41 and 36 reps, according to the NFL’s website (http://www.nfl.com/combine/top-performers#year=2012&workout=BENCH_PRESS&position=QB-RB-WR-TE-S-DL-LB-CB-OL-SPEC).

Griffin Uhl’s strength is consistent with a top college prospect. But what about his understanding of a game that requires comprehension of a playbook thicker than some of the textbooks he will see in his first year of college? Linda Uhl said he’s been settling in nicely.

“He’s talked to upperclassmen and they’ve helped him to understand some of the things he wasn’t accustomed to. But he’s, from what I understand, he’s picking it up,” Linda Uhl said. “The drills and everything that we’ve watched him do, there’s no way that I think anybody would look at him and say that he hasn’t played just as long as everybody else that’s a freshman out there.”

Hurtt agrees that Griffin Uhl is doing just fine so far.

“He is always willing to learn and plays with such high energy,” Hurtt said. “Furthermore, the players on the defensive line love him and think he is a special person.”

Linda Uhl said everything she’s heard from her son has been positive.

“He feels good, he fits in, he’s working well,” she said. “Everything about the experience and the way that we would have wanted it to be for him, that’s how it’s been for him.”

In fact, Linda Uhl may be the one who has the most trouble adjusting. After all, when her son was playing community league football, there were no restrictions on who could watch practice and when.

“For the first time, I couldn’t be there watching him all the time, which for me was really weird,” she said.

She was looking forward to last Sunday, which was fan appreciation day.

“I’m one of his largest fans,” she joked.

She may be the biggest, but Griffin Uhl is gaining his own following. His sister, Natalie Uhl, started class at Henryville last week and it seems like everyone wants to know how her brother is doing.

“It’s been nice that the school has kind of wrapped their arms around him, and they want to know what’s going on,” Linda Uhl said. “And it also probably doesn’t hurt that he’s playing for the local school.”

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