LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Dorian Etheridge is used to being on the field.
As a true freshman last season, the Charleston, W. Va., native played in all 13 games, and was the first rookie in school history to lead the team in tackles.
Starting all 13 games in 2017, Etheridge recorded 83 tackles and earned Freshman All-American accolades. He totaled five games with eight or more tackles, including a personal best of 14 stops in a loss to Boston College.
After recording eight tackles in the first two games, the linebacker was out of the lineup with an injury in the last two games, and being on the sidelines was a tough adjustment.
“Playing all year last year, this was like my first two games not being out there,” Etheridge said. “I was seeing everything, talking to them out there, and trying to be a good teammate, but it’s nothing like being out on the field. That really got to me, and that’s why I needed to get out there better than ever.”
In the loss to Virginia last week, Etheridge tried to give it a go, but the training staff thought he wasn’t quite ready, which was frustrating to the 6-foot-3 linebacker.
“(The ankle) wasn’t all the way there yet,” Etheridge said. “The risk wasn’t worth it.”
The defense will get a big lift this weekend against Florida State when Etheridge is expected to return to the lineup for the first time since the Indiana State game on Sept. 15.
Etheridge is probably the most critical piece on Louisville’s defense as he’s the team’s main communicator, and is responsible for getting his young defense lined up.
“I was Coach Dorian when I was out,” Etheridge said. “They just get the feedback. Every time I come out there, I’m in their face. Every time they came to the sideline, they were probably getting tired of me. But they knew I was trying to help them.”
Despite losing their losing tackler from a year ago, the inexperienced defense has demonstrated signs of improvement this season, and the return on their leader could provide a spark against a solid Florida State squad, which enters the games at 2-2, but 0-2 in the league.
“I’m 19 years old and I’m one of the leaders on the team,” Etheridge said. “As long as I got my guys around me, we got each other’s backs. It don’t really matter, the other stuff.”
With Etheridge out, freshman Robert Hicks started one game and redshirt freshman Nick Okeke the other. Hicks, a rookie out of Miami, led the Cardinals with 11 tackles against Western Kentucky, while Okeke totaled seven stops in his first career start.
“Robert is a young guy who has a lot of athletic ability,” Etheridge said. He played well, but he just has to learn the ropes of the game.”
Etheridge totaled five tackles last season in Louisville’s 31-28 win over the Seminoles in Tallahassee, and knows to beat FSU for the third-straight time, the Cardinals must stop the run.
“The running backs are definitely their strength,” Etheridge said. “They focus their offense around their two backs. They have two outstanding backs and a good quarterback, so we just have to contain them.”
The Cardinals and Seminoles will kick off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, with both teams looking for their first conference wins.