Losing top ’21 OT hurts Louisville football for a multitude of reasons

Louisville football’s staff will now have to scramble to find another top offensive lineman.

Landing four-star players is all fun and good until the big college powers start calling. That’s exactly where Louisville football finds themselves this week following the decommitment of four-star offensive lineman and local product, Zen Michalski.

If you’re a Cardinal fan and even slightly interested in recruiting, you’ve probably become fairly familiar with Michalski by now, following his commitment to the Cards back in April. At the time of his commitment the 6’6, 285-pound offensive tackle was a relatively unknown player in the recruiting landscape,  who was just beginning to see his recruitment trend upward.

Following the offer from Louisville, Michalski chose the Cards over several respectable programs including, Michigan State, Indiana, Syracuse, Boston College, and Cincinnati, but was still rated as the 80th best tackle in the country.

Since announcing his intentions to play for Louisville, where he was set to join Aaron Gunn and Michael Gonzalez as offensive line prospects for Dwayne Ledford, Michalski’s stock has continued trending up – even to the point of attracting an offer from one of the most well known programs in the country and receiving a fourth star.

I wrote about that offer last month which came from Ohio State, and I warned Louisville fans of what exactly that could mean moving forward. Louisville’s had a history of losing out on hot local commodities to Ohio State, dating all the way back to Jordan Whiting and Rodjay Burns, and the offer from Michalski was worrisome for that reason.

Despite saying and doing all of the right things, it was clear that Michalski’s stock was rising to the point of attracting legitimate college football powerhouses and that attention was making him rethink his commitment.

That’s exactly what happened on Monday evening as Michalski took to Twitter to officially announces his intentions to decommit, something I feared would be coming.

Losing a four-star offensive tackle who clearly is showing the potential to develop into an NFL caliber player, hurts. But what hurts even worse for Louisville is the immediate need for a game-changing talent on their offensive line.

Through three weeks of the 2020 season we’ve seen Louisville line struggle, especially in their last two contests against Miami and Pittsburgh. On Saturday, they were responsible for giving up seven sacks and multiple hurries while the Panthers defense also accounted for another 12 tackles for loss. It led to a lackluster performance from Malik Cunningham and forced the Cards into doing things they normally wouldn’t.

There are plenty of talented young players on the roster, including Adonis Boone, Renato Brown, Trevor Reid, Tim Lawson, Zach Williamson amongst others, all of whom were brought here to be the future of the Cards offensive line.

That still remains a possibility and I have all the faith in the world in them to develop into top-tier players, but it’s clear that Michalski was developing a special set of skills that could immediately translate to success at the tackle position.

Louisville still holds commitments from Gunn and Gonzalez, two players capable of eventually earning a fourth star, but it’s likely that both will play on interior at guard or center, leaving a gaping hole at the tackle position.

Two names that quickly come to mind as potential replacements are four-star offensive tackle Yousef Murgharbil, and three-star offensive guard Armon Bethea. 

Should Louisville decide they want to replace Michalski straight up with another offensive tackle, they’ll start with Murgharbil, a 6’5, 305-pound tackle out of Murphy, NC who holds offers from the likes of Florida, Penn State, North Carolina, amongst others.

Should they decide that Gonzalez is a player capable of moving over to the tackle spot at the next level, Armon “Big Baby” Bethea is the number one option. At 6’6, 310-pounds he has the size, athleticism, and strength to play immediately for Ledford and would be a huge steal considering he holds offers from multiple SEC programs as well as a handful of ACC schools.

Losing Michalski is a blow to the success of the 2021 class, although it by no means kills momentum. We’ve talked about it a ton over the last few years, but until Louisville is able to compete at the top of the ACC with Clemson, there will always be a threat of bigger schools flipping commitments.

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Michalski isn’t the first and he won’t be the last you can be that. But this staff and program is built on the premises of getting up when adversity strikes and rising to the occasion when it’s difficult. Time is still on their side with the early signing period falling in December, but trying to find a player with the skill, size, and potential of Michalski will be extremely challenging.