John Denton's Knights Insider

Dec. 1, 2009

By John Denton

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Four-year-old Phillip had his Elmo doll safely tucked under one arm when he fired a wobbly spiral to UCF standout defensive end Bruce Miller only to have the miniature football bounce off his hands and hit the floor.

``Sorry, I'm not a very good catcher. I play defense,'' Miller jokingly apologized to the patient at the Emergency Department at Florida Hospital for Children.

Finished with an 8-4 regular season, UCF's football players and head coach George O'Leary took some time off on Tuesday morning before bowl preparations to visit some of the pediatric patients at Florida Hospital for Children. The players brought gold UCF hats, sweatbands, towels and football posters for the patients. And at times it was difficult to tell which ones enjoyed the visit more - the players or the young patients.

``It's a great feeling and I love being around kids. Seeing them smile puts a big smile on my face,'' said senior defensive tackle Torrell Troup, one of UCF's captains. ``To be able to do something like this is just a great feeling for us. These kids go through so much and persevere and it makes some of our issues that we go through in football seem so small in comparison.''

Troup and fellow senior Rocky Ross entertained 9-year-old Spencer Hancock, an Apopka native, by singing along with him while playing the video game, Rock Band. Spencer had been in the hospital since Thanskgiving Day with a serious infection in his leg, but the off-key singing performances from Troup and Ross brought a big smile to his face.

And when UCF's players forgot to sign Spencer's poster, the 9-year-old followed the group down the hall and asked for autographs. Of course, they obliged, much to Spencer's delight.

``He is such a sports fan and he couldn't wait for the football players to get here when he heard that they were coming,'' said Doug Hancock, Spencer's dad. ``He's always been a baseball player, but I'm guessing he'll want to be a football player now after meeting these guys. What they did for him was great.''

O'Leary said he tries to bring the football team over to the hospital soon after the regular season concludes because he sees it as ``a way we can give back to the community.''

But he also organizes the hospital visit to try and bring a bit of perspective to his players' eyes. And O'Leary usually doesn't have to wait too long to see how the trip changes the views some of his players have.

``Sometimes Division I athletes can be selfish and this is a good way to show them that a lot of people have it a lot harder,'' said O'Leary, who has guided UCF to a bowl game for the third time in five years.

``It's an eye-opener for a lot of the players,'' the coach continued. ``And it's amazing when you come over here on the bus it's loud, but going home you can hear a pin drop. It's a little bit different perspective for them. They take the message back to their squad and spread the word and maybe there's a little less whining going on.''

When one segment of UCF's standout defensive line visited the critical care unit, 16-year-old Brian Rene and UCF tackle Travis Timmons got to talk shop. Brian has dreams of someday becoming a mechanical engineer and enjoys building old cars.

That was music to the ears of Timmons, who fancies himself as a Mr. Fix-It of sorts. ``I'm the same way,'' Timmons told Brian. ``If I can get my hands on it, I'll fix it.''

And when Brian peeled back his poster to reveal the signatures of David Williams, Darin Baldwin, Miller and Timmons, a wide smile came across his face. A similar smile was there for the UCF foursome of players.

``This is something we look forward to every year,'' said Williams, one of UCF's best run stoppers from his defensive end position. ``It's something we enjoy because you feel like you are making a difference bringing a smile to some of these kid's faces.''

Ross, who was told not to quit his day job by O'Leary when he was singing along to the video game Rock Band, said that seeing kids in the hospital put some of the complaints football players have on a daily basis in perspective. This visit, he said, showed him how fortunate he is to have his health.

``It gives you another outlook on life,'' Ross said. ``We have the utmost respect for the people who are here and how they are fighting every day. Sometimes we complain about having to run too much in practice, but it doesn't compare to what we see here with some of these kids and how tough they are going through what they do.''

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