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June 13, 2014

Bridgewater: Strong will get it done

There have been plenty of achievements during Charlie Strong's coaching career.

He became the 29th head coach at the University of Texas earlier this year. Three of Strong's former players were first-round selections in the 2014 NFL draft, and four guys were selected overall. Strong compiled a 37-15 record, two Big East Conference Championships (2011, 2012) and was named Big East Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2012. He also led Louisville to four straight bowl game appearances, compiling a 3-1 record, including a victory over No. 4 Florida in the 2013 Allstate Sugar Bowl.

However, his biggest accomplishment may have been convincing former Miami Northwestern standout Teddy Bridgewater to leave south Florida and join him in Louisville.

In fact, the majority of Strong's accomplishments may not have occurred without Bridgewater.

"The biggest thing with Coach Strong is his personality," Bridgewater said. "He's a very genuine person, and he comes off as a high-spirited guy. He just gets you to buy into everything that he tells you. Because his track record speaks for itself, he made it easy for me to buy into everything he was saying. He's a genuine person who can relate to any athlete, no matter where they're from, their upbringing, or their beliefs. I think that's the biggest thing that helped with his recruitment."

The majority of Longhorns fans have been dying to know if Strong will continue his success as a recruiter at Texas. Alabama currently has two five-star commitments and 12-four star standouts, according to Rivals.com. Clemson is currently ranked second (one five-star, seven four-stars), while Texas A&M is ranked fifth with eight four-star commitments.

Meanwhile, Texas is ranked 20th with zero commitments from five-star players, three commitments from four-star standouts, and seven three-star athletes. Rivals.com currently ranks Texas behind TCU (No. 15), Baylor (No. 18) and Northwestern (No. 19).

However, a glimpse into Strong's recruitment of Bridgewater could mean there are brighter days ahead for Texas' football program.

"He's a great motivator," Bridgewater said. "With him being a great motivator, he can bring out the best talent and your best potential because he has something about him that gets guys going. If you're having a bad day, he can come in and turn that day around. It doesn't matter.

"He's not about having the five-star guys because sometimes five-stars don't mean a thing, he would always say. He's a guy who just wants great talent. He always says he wants a smart football team. He always said if you show him a smart football team academically, he will show you a good team on the field. I think those are the type of guys he looks for, also."

Strong was not looking for Bridgewater, and there is a good reason why.

The majority of football players in the Sunshine State grow up wanting to play for the University of Florida, Florida State or Miami (not necessarily in that order). If they are not able to obtain a scholarship offer from the big three, most are willing to play for the University of Central Florida or University of South Florida. If all else fails, there is always Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, Bethune Cookman College or Florida A&M.

Regardless, it takes a lot to of work to pluck a kid out of Florida.

Bridgewater committed to the University of Miami during his senior season at Northwestern, an elite program he led to the playoffs during his three years as a starter, and Louisville backed off after that announcement. The Northwestern quarterback was a local hero in Miami, and many believed he would resurrect Miami's glory days, the era when Jimmy Johnson and Denis Erickson were arguably the NCAA's best coaches, and when Larry Coker road their coattails to success.

Miami was struggling under coach Randy Shannon, but Bridgewater was going to be the savior.

Then Shannon was fired.

All bets were off.

Bridgewater did not want to play for Miami without Shannon, the man who effectively recruited him.

It was not long before Strong walked through the open door. Strong also slammed the door and did not allow any other NCAA coaches in.

"A former high school teammate, Mike Lee Harris [receiver], was already there," Bridgewater said. "He was telling Coach Strong to offer me, I hadn't had an offer and he and I had been talking. I was telling him I didn't know about Louisville because they haven't sent an offer. He told Coach Strong you didn't offer him yet, so what are you waiting on? They finally sent the offer. It was a tricky process, but when he came down to visit me at Northwestern and when I took the visit, everything about him stood out to me."

Strong did not win Bridgewater over by making a bunch of promises. The coach did not tell Bridgewater everything he knew highly-ranked prospects wanted to hear. Strong just gave him the truth.

"For me, I was always a guy who did my research," Bridgewater said. "No matter what decision I was thinking about making, I always thought it through first. When he finally offered me, he said he didn't have any quarterbacks on the roster. At the time, he had my good friend Will Stein, and he was a starter at the time, but behind Will, there weren't any other quarterbacks.

"He told me Will was going into his junior year, and if I came in and competed, I could possibly become a starter. I think hearing those words got me going. He was a coach who didn't come in and promise me a starting job or anything like that. He was a genuine guy who said I'm not going to give you any handouts. You have to work for everything. That's the way I was brought up. Nothing in life is free. You have to work for everything. Hearing that, it just took me back to my old stomping grounds. I just grew some trust in him early in the process."

It was a process that did not take long.

After two weeks of recruiting Bridgewater, Strong received a verbal commitment from the biggest signee of his four-year tenure as a head coach. Bridgewater developed into a first-round draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings because of Strong's influence.

As a result of Strong's successful acquisition of Bridgewater, Northwestern became a pipeline to Louisville. Even though Bridgewater is in the NFL, there are currently five players Strong recruited from Northwestern on Louisville's roster.

"He figured the entire recruiting process out," Bridgewater said. "He told me if you get a quarterback, everybody is going to want to go to where that quarterback is going. For me, since I was an enrollee also, that helped. It showed those guys we would have a quarterback for the next couple of years. That helped a lot with the entire recruiting process, being able to recruit south Florida. Once he recruited me and offered me, it's like a pipeline now.

"I started to go around and recruit guys to go to the University of Louisville with me. That was pretty much how it happened. When I received (the Louisville) offer, now I can make a phone call to one of my former 7-on-7 teammates and tell him, 'I'm thinking about going to Louisville. Anyone else down here in the Miami area want to go?' It's like playing a game of telephone where you spread the word you're going to Louisville, then you hear Andrew Johnson [Miami Southridge] is going to Louisville, Eli Rogers [Miami Northwestern] is going to Louisville. That's pretty much how it all happened."

Strong is trying to emulate his success at Louisville with the Longhorns.

So far, Strong has a commitment from quarterback Zach Gentry. OrangeBloods.com editor Jason Suchomel recently spoke with Sean Paterson, father of Shreveport Calvary Academy quarterback Shea Patterson, and despite committing to Arizona, Strong recently left a great impression with the junior after Texas' first-ever Elite Quarterback Academy.

It will take time to determine Strong's recruiting impact, but Bridgewater expects several success stories in Austin.

"I think he'll do a pretty good job because of the person he is," Bridgewater said. "He has a lot of resources at the University of Texas that will help out in the recruiting process. I think he'll do a great job of just being genuine guy. He's a good motivator, and his track record speaks volumes. He's a very credible guy. The people he recruits now will look at the former guys who played for him at Louisville. They'll look at those guys' success, everything he did at Louisville, and that's how it will play out for him at Texas."

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