Marc Daniels' From the Press Box: Central to the Point of Progress

Feb. 8, 2010

By Marc Daniels

If you have ever played the game Jenga then you know the premise is to carefully slide a small wooden block off a tower of similar wooden blocks and carefully place it on top of the tower. If the block you choose to slide out leads to the tower to fall and collapse, then you lose. Except when UCF plays the game in relation to recruiting. In this version, they win and perhaps they win really big.

In recent years, UCF coaches had some success when it came to tapping into the wealth of talent in the football rich area of Miami-Dade County. But this year's efforts, led by assistant David Kelly, were unlike any other year.

This game of Jenga saw the tower come down, but what it really means is the door opened up.

"Amazing," is what a good friend of mine said when I asked him about the talent UCF secured from south Florida in its recruiting class. That friend, who chooses to remain anonymous, knows a thing or two about high school football in the area. He has been involved in youth leagues, clinics, fund raising and putting kids on the right path for over 30 years.

"You don't understand, to get so many players from Miami Central sends a message. And the players you got are really good. So many young kids growing up look up to those guys and believe me it gives UCF street cred, the good kind of street cred," he said.

Kelly built a relationship at Miami Central with coaches, players and parents convinced some of the best players on a team that was nationally ranked that UCF offered anything and everything that anyone could want.

When Central's quarterback, Jeffrey Godfrey, not only committed to UCF, but enrolled early, it had a ripple effect. Word spread across the recruiting trails that other players from Central would follow. Godfrey is thought of so highly by teammates, coaches, fans and future high school and college stars that his decision to become a Knight was not questioned, but many others said, "if he's going there, something good is going on."

But UCF's success is not limited to Miami Central. The Knights secured players from Miami Southridge in the McCray twins, Zach Soto from Miami Pace, early enrollee Perry Meiklejohn from Westminister Christian and Torrian Wilson, from the powerhouse Miami Northwestern. UCF did not get into one school that has a good team. The Knights raided one of the best schools and tapped into other top programs.

In relation to Godfrey's impact, he has a chance to get into the quarterback mix now. He will be there for spring practice and will get every chance to play early. The best quarterback will win the job and he will have to earn it. Should Godfrey become UCF's starting quarterback at some point, don't underestimate the long-term impact on recruiting in south Florida. It could only open the door for more players who look at UCF not as a fallback, but as the top destination to play.

In fact, UCF's other quarterback in this class, Blake Bortles, never wavered on his early commitment to UCF. Despite plenty of Internet rumors he would go elsewhere, the record-breaking signal caller from Oviedo is a Knight. He might remind fans of another quarterback who grew up a UCF fan and dreamed of playing for his favorite school, Brett Hodges. It took Hodges four years to finally get to UCF. Bortles showed his willingness to compete by staying committed despite Godfrey's decision to enroll early. And don't forget Nico Flores. The talented athlete was a star for the scout team all last season and only adds to the depth at the position.

In addition to the success from south Florida, perhaps UCF's recruiting run can be summed up with what new Knight Jordan Akins did. The star wideout from McDonough, Ga., was sought by the likes of LSU, Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Georgia. Despite a packed gym waiting to hear Akins tell them he was becoming a Bulldog, the 6-foot-4 all-state selection told the black and red group of fans he was going to UCF. Akins stunned Georgia fans and made those so-called recruiting experts wonder what is going on at UCF. How are they landing these highly touted players?

George O'Leary's staff had a plan and put it in place. They targeted positions of priority and players who can have an impact. Instead of hoping to land one or two of the "big" names, UCF's approach was to land as many as they could.

How good was the class? Forget what "the experts" say. Most of them are too busy kissing up to the schools UCF beat out for some players to really know or admit the talent of the class. UCF's class was so good, they had to turn down some very good players who wanted to become Knights. Some of those same players are the type of kids UCF would have loved to have landed in previous years.

Now these players must produce on the field. Some will be expected to have an immediate impact. But the walls have come down at some places in regards to recruiting. Doors not opened in the past are now open and more players than ever who looked elsewhere first now want to be a Knight. And that's a nice problem to have.

Marc Daniels' From the Press Box runs several times per month on UCFAthletics.com. Listen to Marc during UCF football, men's basketball and baseball radio broadcasts on the UCF-ISP Sports Network. Each weekday, Marc hosts "The Beat of Sports" on ESPN 1080 in Orlando from 9-11 a.m.