Football Opens Spring Drills Wednesday

March 22, 2005

ORLANDO - The UCF football team accomplished one goal in 2004 - it never quit on the field. The Golden Knights, from practice to game days, always gave it their all and the results are starting to show this spring. UCF has had a solid off-season in the weight room and the Golden Knights are eager for spring practice to commence.

"I think right now we have gone through a pretty good off-season program," mentioned UCF head coach George O'Leary. "I can see the retention from last fall to this spring and that is encouraging."

With an off-season schedule of rigorous strength and conditioning work, the foundation and tone have been set for the upcoming season.

"We have to leave the spring objectively in our two-deep roster," added O'Leary. "We need to see where our strengths and weaknesses are and to also notice how much of our experienced players have improved both skill-wise and strength-wise."

Spring drills start March 23 and the first phase of preparations for the 2005 season conclude with fan photo day and the spring scrimmage April 16 at the practice fields, adjacent to the Wayne Densch Sports Center. A new excitement is abundant in and around the UCF football program with the final day of spring practice to be celebrated for the first time on-campus, instead of downtown at the Florida Citrus Bowl.

The Golden Knights also have a new jewel in their ever-growing list of impressive facilities in the Nicholson Fieldhouse. The first 120-yard indoor practice facility for any collegiate program in the state of Florida gives UCF a distinct advantage to battle the ever-changing weather patterns in Florida.

With the return of 39 lettermen, including 14 on offense and 16 on defense, UCF returns plenty of experience.

O'Leary, who enters his second season as head coach of the Golden Knights, enters a new era of football for UCF as the Golden Knights begin play in Conference USA in the fall. The new conference affiliation ends a three-year run in the Mid-American Conference for UCF as a football-only member. In Conference USA, all of UCF's sports will participate in the same conference for the first time in school history.

The 2005 schedule begins with a primetime showdown at South Carolina. The ESPN broadcast is set for Thursday night, September 1, marking the fourth consecutive year UCF has opened the season on ESPN. The game also marks the first college football broadcast for ESPN in 2005.

In total, UCF plays five teams that were bowl-eligible last season on the 2005 football schedule. The 2005 schedule for the Golden Knights features 10 games to be played on Saturday, with the only mid-week game set for Thursday, Sept. 1, on national television.

The Golden Knights face the challenge of just four home games in 2005. The home schedule features four games vs. Conference USA opponents, including the home-opener September 24 vs. Marshall.

"We are very happy about the 2005 schedule and are anxious to play in Conference USA," stated O'Leary. "Obviously, you would always like to see more home games, but I think we have an outstanding schedule against strong competition in 2005."

All 14 players who lettered last season on offense return with at least one start under their belts. The offensive line welcomes back the largest contingent of experience as all six letterwinners from last season return in 2005. Three players - Dominic Iglenzi, Sean Gilhuly and Dan Veenstra - started all 11 games up front a season ago.

Two of those players, Ignelzi and Veenstra, will have a new position in the spring. Ignelzi, one of three true freshmen to earn playing time on the offensive line in 2004, moves from left guard to left tackle. Ignelzi showed the toughness and determination to become a successful collegiate linemen in his first season on the line.

With the return of six lettermen, the overall depth of the unit should be vastly improved in 2005. The first team offensive line heading into spring drills includes Ignelzi at left tackle, Veenstra at left guard, junior Cedric Gagne-Marcoux at center, sophomore Kyle Smith at right guard and sophomore Josh Sitton at right tackle.

Veenstra makes the switch to guard after starting all 11 games at tackle last season. Sitton also makes the move from guard to center.

With three true freshmen and two sophomores on the offensive line in 2004, UCF had the youngest unit in terms of starts in the nation.

The second-team offensive line features two redshirt freshmen who showed promise on the scout team a year ago. L.J. Anderson will hold down the back-up tackle spot on the right side while Kyle Storey mans the left tackle position on the second team entering spring drills.

The coaching staff hopes with an increased understanding of the offense and improved strength from their work in the weight room, the offensive line could be one of the most improved units on the team.

"I better see plenty of improvement on the offensive line," said O'Leary. "The players are stronger and they are playing more to the speed of the game. I expect to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines and that is a key area to show great improvement for us to be successful."

At quarterback, UCF returns two players who started in 2004 - junior Steven Moffett and sophomore Kyle Israel. In addition, walk-on Ed Marynowitz adds depth to the position and will be eligible to play in 2005 after transferring from LaSalle prior to the start of the 2004 campaign.

Moffett showed flashes of potential last season, but will really look to improve his consistency on the field and as a leader of the offensive unit. The Winter Park native finished the season 147-of-229 passing for 1,721 yards and nine touchdowns along with 10 interceptions. Moffett completed 64.2 percent of his passes and ranked seventh in the MAC in pass efficiency. One area Moffett must improve on in 2005 is protecting the football - both via fumble or interception.

Israel returns for his second year of collegiate football after earning playing time as a true freshman. A tough competitor with good touch on his passes, Israel's season came to a premature end due to a leg injury in 2004. The Orlando product completed just 14 passes in 36 attempts a year ago in three games of action including one start.

Both players enter the spring as co-starters at quarterback, so the competition should be intense as all the quarterbacks look to earn the starting job. "I am hoping to give Israel and Moffett the majority of snaps at quarterback in the spring and see who develops," stated O'Leary. "We will split their time with the first unit so they can be judged with their work with the first team offense. We want to see if we can walk away this spring with a quarterback who has established himself on the field once we enter fall practice."

With the starting quarterback job still in the air, another area that is up for grabs is at tailback. With the loss of all-time leading rusher Alex Haynes, UCF is in search of a new starting tailback for the first time in four years. The candidates to earn the starting job include junior Dontavius Wilcox, sophomore Curtis Francis and junior college transfer Jason Peters.

"We have three tailbacks in the spring and another two coming in the fall who will have their opportunities," added O'Leary. "We want to see who can mesh best with the offense and we want to leave the spring with a No. 1 guy. I think all three players will have the chance to see who develops and who rises to the top in that group."

Wilcox will have the first opportunity to impress the coaching staff as he enters spring listed atop the depth chart at tailback. A shifty runner with good speed, Wilcox was a change-of-pace back for the Golden Knights in 2004. Wilcox played in all 11 games last season and rushed for 215 yards on 61 carries including two touchdowns.

Francis played as a true freshman on special teams on both the coverage units and as a kick returner along with limited duty at tailback. A versatile athlete who was a standout in track in high school, Francis has all the tools needed to become a starter at tailback for the Golden Knights. Francis displayed the toughness needed to play the position and also has good speed and vision in the backfield.

Peters is the wild card of the group after transferring from Butte Junior College in California. At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Peters has great size at tailback and was rated the No. 3 junior college tailback recruit in the nation by collegefootballnews.com. Peters led the state of California with 1,679 rushing yards as a freshman and was a preseason junior college player of the year according to Street & Smiths Magazine entering his sophomore season.

One area on offense where the starters appear to be set entering spring drills is at wide receiver. The return of Mike Walker and Brandon Marshall gives UCF a potent, one-two combination on the outside. Both players moved to defense in 2004 - Walker at cornerback and Marshall at safety - due to UCF's rash of injuries in the defensive secondary. Both players are back on offense this spring and are atop the depth chart at wide receiver.

Walker, a junior from Orlando, is perhaps the team's best overall athlete and showed it on the field in 2004. As a cornerback, Walker led UCF with three interceptions, including two at Penn State in the third game of the season. After moving back to offense at the end of the season, Walker totaled nine receptions for 191 yards and one touchdown. The touchdown came on 70-yard play where he broke several tackles and found the end zone. His 21.2 yards per reception average led the team and gave UCF a big-play threat in the passing game.

Marshall has great size and hands as he returns to wide receiver after a stint at safety in 2004. Marshall moved to safety prior to the Buffalo game (fourth game of the season) and ended up leading the team in tackles. In three games on offense, Marshall hauled in eight passes for 84 yards last season. With the loss of Tavaris Capers and Luther Huggins to graduation, Walker and Marshall should feature more prominent roles in the UCF passing attack.

Junior Brooks Turner should be used as the No. 3 wide receiver in 2005. Turner made the most of his opportunity last season when Marshall and Walker moved to defense. Turner caught 16 passes for 126 yards and gave UCF another dangerous option both on the outside and in the slot.

Junior Andre Sumpter, who has missed all of 2003 with an injury, practiced with the team all of last season and should be ready to contribute in 2005. Other candidates to see time in the spring include sophomore Sergiori Joachim and sophomore Chris Narsesian, who missed all of 2004 with a knee injury.

Defensively, UCF welcomes the return of 16 letterwinners entering the spring. The Golden Knights battled the injury bug in 2004 - losing several impact players both in the secondary and at linebacker for the season. UCF entered 2004 with two players in the top 10 in career tackles in the secondary in Peter Sands and Atari Bigby. Sands was ineligible for 2004 and Bigby had a disappointing season due to a stress fracture in his leg.

With the loss of Sands and Bigby, several freshmen earned playing time, including Sha'reff Rashad. The free safety is first on the depth chart at free safety entering spring drills. Rashad made his first career start at Penn State and broke his hand on the first play of the game - but still managed to play the entire game. Rashad, now a redshirt freshman, missed the rest of the season due to the hand injury.

Senior Anthony Willis and freshman Breon Rogers add strong competition at the position. Rogers, a mid-year addition from Hargrave Military Academy, is a big-time recruit with good size and athletic skills.

At strong safety, sophomore Renford Parkes returns after starting five games a year ago. Parkes had to adjust to the speed of game last season and continued to improve with playing time and learning the new defensive scheme O'Leary installed.

Ron Ellis and Travis Holmes return as the starters on the corner. Ellis, now in his third year in the program, finished fifth on the team with 45 tackles in 2004. Holmes, a walk-on from Jacksonville, was pressed into duty at the end of the season and played well in limited duty. In the Ball State game, Holmes covered Ball State All-American Dante Ridgeway and totaled four tackles and an interception vs. the Cardinals.

Redshirt freshmen Johnell Neal and Augustus Ashley are the back-up corners on the depth chart entering the spring. Neal has worked well in the weight room in the off-season and could be a player to watch this spring.

Redshirt freshman Jason Venson returns from a season-ending knee injury. The Georgia native worked his way onto the two-deep roster after an impressive preseason camp a year ago prior to the knee injury.

Mid-year recruit Marlon Williams is another playmaker who should vault into contention as he learns the UCF defensive system. Williams has ideal size and speed for the corner spot.

Linebacker is one area of concern for UCF entering the spring. The Golden Knights signed eight linebackers in the 2005 recruiting class and two will have an immediate opportunity this spring. Freshman mid-year signee Clarence Howard has the look of a middle linebacker. At 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, Howard is an exciting athlete who can also play defensive end for the Golden Knights. Howard is listed No. 1 on the depth chart entering spring drills.

Senior James Cook is the first-team weakside linebacker heading into the spring. The veteran of the UCF linebacking corps, Cook started 10 of the 11 games he played in a season ago.

At strongside linebacker, junior Chris Welsh moves from defensive end to the top of the depth chart. A strong player with good speed for his size, Welsh has a motor that never quits on the playing field. Welsh started 10 games in 2004 at end and totaled 25 tackles, including four behind the line of scrimmage.

Mid-year signee Jordan Richards is another freshman who could see playing time right away in 2005. Richards enters his first spring at UCF as the No. 2 weakside linebacker on the depth chart.

The defensive line returns the most letterwinners on the defense for UCF with six players returning from 2004. A pair of interior linemen - Emeka Okammor and Keith Shologan - both started in the middle as true freshmen. Both players should be well-adjusted to the speed and strength of the Division I game after playing in all 11 games last season.

Seniors Paul Carrington and Glenroy Watkins return at left defensive end, while sophomore Dennis King and junior Kareem Reid hold down the right end spot. Watkins and Carrington split time as a starter in 2004, and Watkins holds down the top spot on the depth chart going into spring drills. The New York native possesses good speed and can rush from the edge in the UCF defensive scheme while Carrington has great size for the position. Carrington really came on strong at the end of the season as he adapted to the new coaching techniques UCF installed.

Reid sat out 2004 as a transfer from the University of Kentucky. On the practice field, Reid showed the coaching staff on the scout team he could be a player to watch with both his size and athleticism. King, who shifted between end and tackle, is another edge-type rusher who played in just five games a year ago.

On special teams, senior placekicker Matt Prater returns for his fourth season in Orlando. Prater, who is fourth in the UCF career annals with 33 field goals, battled injury in 2004 and missed two games for the first time in his career. With a strong leg with 50-yard range, Prater gives UCF one of the most reliable kickers in the nation. His 178 points rank fifth in school history for a kicker. Senior John Brown filled in for Prater in 2004 and was a solid reserve.

Senior punter Aaron Horne returns for his second year at UCF as the punter. In his first season of college football, Horne improved as the season went on. He averaged just over 38 yards per punt, but did manage to place 18 punts inside the 20 yard line.