John Denton's Knights Insider

Oct. 27, 2009

By John Denton

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Terry Rooney makes no bones about the fact that he left one of the best jobs in all of college baseball more than a year ago to become the manager of UCF's baseball team. Rooney so believed in the enormous growth potential at UCF that he left LSU with the belief that he'd soon turn the Knights into a national powerhouse.

Apparently some of the best baseball prospects in all the country share Rooney's belief that UCF is a powerhouse program in the making.

Rooney's latest recruiting class is ranked No. 4 overall by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. The stellar class, which includes 21 players, was also ranked No. 10 in the country by Baseball America.

Ten newcomers are products of junior colleges, while six of the players have been previously drafted by Major League Baseball franchises. The influx of talent shows that UCF is very much a rising baseball power, Rooney said.

``We're extremely excited about the rankings because they show recognition throughout the entire country of the direction of this program,'' Rooney said. ``It demonstrates what the possibilities are for this program in the future.

``I accepted this job and left LSU, arguably the best assistant coaching job in America where we had just gone to the World Series, because of what UCF's baseball program can be,'' Rooney continued. ``My job is to make sure we reach that potential. The reality is that baseball here at UCF can compete at the national level and for a national championship.''

That's the message pitched by Rooney, a high energy, fast-talking coach with a deep-seeded belief in what is happening here at UCF. With a university that has recently become the third-largest in the nation and a program positioned in a baseball hotbed, Rooney sees no reason why UCF can't become a legitimate contender to make it to Omaha, Neb., to the College World Series on a yearly basis.

``The foundation of this program, combined with where we are located geographically, combined with where we are in Conference USA, you see the possibilities are endless,'' he said. ``Kids want to know will they have a chance to compete for the postseason and a legitimate chance to get to Omaha? The answer is `yes.' You have a coaching staff that has been there. Will they have a chance to reach their aspirations of playing professional baseball? Well, the answer is `yes' because you have a staff that has produced Major Leaguers.''

UCF was 22-35 last year in Rooney's first season at UCF, but the Knights closed the season 15-15 over the final two months of Conference USA play. C-USA is one of the nation's best baseball conferences, putting three teams in the Super Regionals last season. UCF was seventh in league play last season, winning more C-USA games (nine) than ever before.

And now after losing 13 seniors and MLB Draft pick Austin Hudson, Rooney has gone to work on restocking the roster with some of the nation's top talent.

Ronnie Richardson, a native of Eagle Lake, is considered the top prospect recruited to UCF by Rooney. Richardson is a switch-hitting speedster who was selected in the 11th round of the MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins.

``We have a lot of kids who had a lot of opportunities to play in the state of Florida and around the country and Ronnie is one of them,'' Rooney said. ``He's a very versatile, dynamic athlete. He can play center field for us, but he played middle infield and pitched for his high school. He's a switch-hitter who can really run.''

Jonathan Griffin, a transfer from Manatee Community College, is a power-hitting first baseman who will almost assuredly hit in the middle of the Knights order. Rooney is such a believer in the long ball in college baseball that he's brought the fences in at UCF and he's worked hard to add more pop to the roster.

Said Rooney: ``There are two things that get you to Omaha: Two-seam fastballs and home runs. To get to the postseason you have to have six out of nine guys in your lineup who can drive the ball. When you can drive the ball out of the park you are never out of games. That's an aggressive style that we want to play here, and you've got to combine it with a collection of different kinds of pitchers.''

A pitching staff that had no left-handers last season has been dramatically upgraded. Owen Dew, a Seminole Community College transfer and a 33rd round pick in the MLB Draft, will battle to be the Knights' top pitcher. Lefty Nick Cicio and Alex Besaw will have the opportunity to bolster the rotation, while crafty College of Southern Nevada transfer Chase Bradford could anchor the bullpen.

Put it all together and it's easy to see why Rooney is confident that UCF's baseball program is on the rise.

``Our first recruiting class we landed a unanimous top-10 recruiting class in the country. So people are starting to see what this program can become,'' he said.

John Denton's Knights Insider appears every several times per week on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.