By John Heisler
UCF Strategic Communications
Maybe it was strictly happenstance that the final stop of the 2019 UCF ChargeOn Tour happened to be Carragher’s, not far from Times Square and maybe better known as the appropriately decorated place where local Liverpool soccer fans gather regularly to watch their English Premier League entrant play.
But Carragher’s doubles as the spot where UCF fans head for watch parties for Knights’ football and basketball games. Nestled in among the red Liverpool décor Thursday night was plenty of black and gold—stickers, magnets, pennants and banners—not to mention the presence of UCF athletics director Danny White and three of his coaches: Josh Heupel (football), Johnny Dawkins (men’s basketball) and Katie Abrahamson-Henderson (women’s basketball).
The ChargeOn Tour normally has been a Florida affair, with previous stops in Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando and the Space Coast.
This marked the first ChargeOn event in New York, maybe no accident given that White has Long Island ties from his father’s side of the family.
The evening marked something of a pep rally-like celebration of the most recent successes of those three UCF programs—after Heupel’s first UCF football team pushed the Knights’ win streak to 25 and claimed a second unbeaten American Athletic Conference title and both basketball programs garnered 2019 NCAA at-large invitations.
Yet it also signified the aspirational nature of UCF’s game plan in the years to come. If White has his way, his Knight teams will continue to make noise beyond their Orlando and Florida environs where they are billed as “Orlando’s Hometown Team.”
Speaking in front of a sign that blared “Welcome to the Knightmare” in large capital letters, White made it clear that UCF is just getting this party started.
With the New York UCF alumni chapter celebrating its 20th year, White ticked off a list of accomplishments—notably the idea that among 128 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision programs, only one institution has seen each team sport produce a winning record each of the last two years. No one had to tell the crowd which school that was (Florida State, Oklahoma State and Texas also did it in 2017-18, but not in 2018-19).
“We’re having so much fun at UCF,” said White, “I’m telling you, the place is an absolute goldmine.”
White noted the strategic plan he and his staff developed in his first year on campus:
“We said some bold things—build a top 25 athletic department, be the pre-eminent athletic program in the state of Florida, be Orlando’s hometown team.
“But I did not expect it to happen this quickly.”
White also noted that UCF license plates rank number one in Orange County (Florida) where the Knights reside:
“We’re going to be number one in the state of Florida before long.
“Then maybe we’ll take on New York,” he added with a wide smile.
“Our student-athletes absolutely love representing UCF. They understand the mark they are making, things that haven’t been done before.”
White praised the jobs the three head coaches have done. Yet, considering the UCF athletic director and the three coaches present at Carragher’s have only been in Orlando a few years, there’s a sense that even better days are ahead as those groups more firmly establish themselves.
Several of the Knight coaches took the opportunity to connect with New York media. The successes of their programs suggest they no longer have to offer business cards as introductions.
Heupel assessed his football program after a full year on campus. He assured the UCF crowd that New York would not be the place to announce a starting quarterback. Dawkins and Abrahamson-Henderson updated fans on their respective roster changes.
But, more than anything, the evening seemed to be symbolic of the reality that, even in New York City, UCF has become the next big thing.
Call it Knightro meets Times Square. And it’s legitimate to suggest that everyone in attendance Thursday night took a photo with the hard-to-miss UCF mascot.
All by itself. White’s enthusiastic pitch makes his Knights saleable, even by saucy New York marketing standards.
Liverpool heads to Madrid to meet EPL rival Tottenham June 1 in the Champions League finale.
Meanwhile, Heupel, Dawkins and Abrahamson-Henderson are coming off memory-making seasons of their own in 2018-19.
So, it’s hard to tell which way the karma at Carragher’s is flowing.
White is quick to convince anyone who wants to listen that the best is yet to come for UCF.
Charge on, indeed