LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- As part of the offensive makeover of the 2019 Louisville football team, coach Scott Satterfield will put more emphasis on a running attack than did his predecessor, Bobby Petrino.
In fact, U of L hasn't had a dominating running back in eight seasons. The Cardinals will put on pads for the first time Thursday, and the fellow who will get first shot at proving he can be the No. 1 halfback is sophomore Hassan Hall.
Hall is Louisville's top returning back, but he rushed for a mere 303 yards and three touchdowns with 70 carries and five starts last season. Since then, however, Hall has bulked up to 198 pounds, 20 more than he weighed in 2018, and feels he is capable of producing at a much higher level.
"I feel faster," Hall said after practice Wednesday. "The weight don't slow you down. It's muscle, it's not fat. When we practice and they hit me. . .last year I was falling. This year, I'm keeping my balance. The offense is run through us. It ain't no secret. We've got to be on our stuff to win games."
"The biggest thing for Hassan and the other guys is teaching them how to practice ," running backs coach Norval McKenzie says. "Hassan took coaching well in the weight room. He has developed more stature-wise with his physique. It's been a total commitment to nutrition, hydration and just taking care of his body."
Hall's jersey number is 19, which coincidentally was the number of one of the best Cardinal running backs in history -- Michael Bush, who rumbled for 1,143 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2005.
"I've watched his highlights," Hall said. "He was a big back. He was great. I've heard he lives somewhere around here. Get him up here for me."
Last year, six U of L running backs gained a total of 1,082 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. Bilal Powell was the last halfback to rush for 1,000 yards, gaining 1,405 in 2010. The last running back to lead the Cards in rushing was Brandon Radcliff, and he did it with only 737 yards in 2014.
"These guys know the quarterback has pretty much led the team in rushing (since 2014)," McKenzie said. "For us, I would love to see a running back get 1,000 yards. We'll start talking about season goals when it's time. I think right now in August camp, we'll just focus on getting better. The first four days of practice there is a lot of excitement and intensity and I'm happy with our progress."
Hall's backup at the moment is redshirt freshman Javier Hawkins, who says Hall's work ethic has created a good example for him and the other running backs.
"He's a workhorse," Hawkins said. "I like being behind him because he works hard, so I have to work hard. As a group, he's creating the mindset of, 'I got to work so ya'll got to work. We all got to eat.'"
"Javian has changed his body and has had a good week so far," McKenzie said. "He can run between the tackles and he does a good job of getting outside. He's improved as a pass catcher, which is big for our offense."
But the Cards are going to need more than two reliable ball carriers, so McKenzie is looking for others to emerge and fill that role by the time UofL hosts Notre Dame in its season opener on Sept. 2.
"With how much we want to run the ball, you can't have just one guy," McKenzie says. "We have to have multiple guys who are ready to roll. If we have 80 plays in a game, I don't think we'll have one guy take 80 snaps, especially with how run-heavy we're going to be. It's my job to get these guys ready to be complete backs, which means running, catching the ball out of the backfield and protecting the quarterback."
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at email@example.com.