Even as a 5th year senior, Hunter Cantwell is a rookie in Louisville after Brian Brohms' departure.... I see alot of potential this college season for him, but he's gotta stay away from the catfish!... ...I saw this sport somewhere on the Discovery Channel a year or so ago, and I really won't recommend it to anyone!....
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Not easy being green
That's true for U of L quarterback and his quarry


By Brian Bennett
bbennett@courier-journal.com

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. Hunter Cantwell needs to make better decisions in the pocket.

This much was clear during the first hour of a late July frog-gigging trip with the University of Louisville quarterback. Three times Cantwell tucked a speared bullfrog into a compartment of his camouflage overalls, only to watch in disbelief as the critter leapt out toward swampy safety.

"Oh, man," he said, laughing as another one got away. "I can't believe I did that again."

After three years of waiting, the senior from Paducah, Ky., finally enters a season as the starter. The former walk-on must follow a living Louisville legend in Brian Brohm while trying to lead the Cardinals back to respectability with an inexperienced supporting cast.

Meanwhile, NFL personnel are buzzing around the 6-foot-4 Cantwell, a classic dropback passer. One prospective agent, Bus Cook, even set up a lunch meeting between Cantwell and his marquee client, Brett Favre, in May.

Yet out in the blackened waters of Hardin County, a little more than a week before U of L started its fall camp, nothing seemed to weigh on Cantwell's mind except half-dead, fleeing frogs.

"If you didn't know who he was, you'd have no idea he was (the starting quarterback)," said friend Ben Henry, who met Cantwell through U of L's Baptist Campus Ministry. "He's so laid back. He doesn't talk about himself or his accomplishments. He usually talks about fishing or hunting."

Said his dad, Tom Cantwell: "Hunter doesn't let football define him. He loves football and loves working to be good at football, but he has other interests."

Those interests include active participation in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, where Cantwell is one of the area's most sought-after public speakers. They also include intramural basketball and table tennis and rec-league softball -- his team lost in the title game of the Southeast Christian Church league this summer.

His main interests, though, usually involve water or woods. On weekends back home, Cantwell inevitably goes fishing or water skiing at Lake Barkley or Kentucky Lake -- unless he's hunting turkey or deer.

"I watch as much film as anybody and give football my all on the practice field," he said. "But there are only so many hours you can work at it in one day. This is a great way to get away a little bit. It's good to have that release."

Earlier this summer Henry took Cantwell "noodling," which is the sport of catching catfish with your bare hands. Cantwell submerged himself in Taylorsville Lake, coming back up to reveal a 27-pound, bottom-feeding beast in his paws.

Sure, he wore protective gloves, but noodlers have gotten their fingers chomped off by snapping turtles. A million-dollar arm isn't worth much without all five digits.

"I was a little worried about it," Tom Cantwell said. "But Hunter doesn't do drugs, and he doesn't drink. Everyone's got to have a vice, and there are worse things."


A few days before he put on his best suit to appear at Big East Conference Media Day in Rhode Island, Cantwell wore overalls while frog-gigging with Henry, backup quarterback Bill Ashburn and others around Elizabethtown.

For the uninitiated, frog-gigging goes like this: You wade into a pond or patrol the banks by foot or boat, searching for the reflection of bullfrog eyes. Once you spot a big croaker, you shine the light in his eyes to blind him. Then you sneak up behind the frog and, using a 7-foot pole with a trident attached to the end, stab the sucker.

This gigging gig began at dusk, visited three ponds and lasted almost until dawn. Around 4 a.m. Cantwell was knee deep in foul-smelling water, helping Ashburn finally bag his first frog. Ashburn then tripped as he walked back to the truck, flipping the dead frog off the spear and into the reeds. He and Cantwell spent the next several minutes fruitlessly looking for it.

It's hard to picture Tom Brady doing this on his night off.


After his early pocket mishaps, Cantwell ended up skewering more than a dozen bullfrogs. Their rear legs were cut off with shears and placed in plastic bags with ice. Cantwell took a big bag home to his freezer and later emptied its contents in a frying pan. Reportedly, it tasted like chicken.

"That's a pretty good meal right there," he said as he surveyed his bounty.

Frogs, fishing and other pursuits now must wait until spring. Cantwell has a football team to lead. He has done it four times before as a starter when Brohm was injured. Most memorably, he withstood a fierce beating from the Virginia Tech pass rush during U of L's 2006 Gator Bowl loss, earning respect from his peers.

"He's jumped into the leadership role that being a quarterback entails," head coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "He knows that role. And what I really like is the fact that the other players have responded to him. Hunter is a very unassuming guy. He doesn't want any credit. If he wanted credit, he wouldn't be at Louisville right now. He'd have left."

Unlike Brohm, who was almost preordained to be a star quarterback, Cantwell never had such a clear path. He grew up in Atlanta, and his father, initially thinking football was too dangerous, pushed him into baseball. He even made Hunter bat left-handed to improve his marketability. But one day when Tom was away on business, Brenda Cantwell signed their third-grade son up for football.

The family moved to Paducah when Hunter was 14, and he became the quarterback at powerhouse Tilghman High School. Though tall and strong, he was also gangly and raw at the position. Nobody, not even NAIA schools or junior colleges, offered him a scholarship.

U of L gave him a chance to walk on, and Cantwell has repaid that faith by never seriously considering his many transfer options.

"I'm just happy to still be playing football," he said. "I never thought I'd play after high school."

Despite throwing only 14 passes as a junior, Cantwell has made the preseason watch lists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and Maxwell awards. He's been projected among the top quarterbacks taken in next year's NFL. And Favre came to Louisville on May 17 to meet him at the Cardinal Hall of Fame Café.

"It's kind of crazy and ridiculous," Cantwell said. "A lot of it is just based on potential. It's a nice compliment, but at the same time, I just take it with a grain of salt."

But he takes his responsibilities as a role model and as the caretaker of the Cardinals' quarterback legacy very seriously.

Steve Wigginton, the Louisville-area director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, said Cantwell almost never turns down his many requests to speak to groups. And Cantwell, whose mother faced a breast-cancer scare a few years ago, has visited with cancer victims and their families.

"They say you want to be a fierce competitor on the field and a great model citizen off the field," U of L center Eric Wood said. "He does a great job of that."

Ultimately, though, Cantwell knows he'll be judged by what he does this year, and he'll be compared to predecessors such as Brohm, Stefan LeFors, Dave Ragone and Chris Redman. Mistakes in this pocket will cost more than just a few frog legs.

"You see what those guys did and the success they had, and you want to live up to it," he said. "The fans are used to always seeing that confident, talented quarterback wearing the red and white, and that's what you want to give them."