John Denton's Knights Insider: Meet Zac Norris

March 23, 2010

By John Denton

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Whereas some players get the royal treatment in recruiting and full scholarship rides, Zac Norris' start in football at UCF came following a walk-on tryout.

Now, two years later he is the all-time record-holder at UCF in the bench press (505 pounds) and first on the depth chart at center for the Knights.

After high school in Port St. Joe, a small town in Florida's panhandle area, the 6-foot-3, 290-pound Norris was unsure about wanting to continue his career in football. But when he ended up at UCF while pursuing a degree in engineering, Norris thought he's give football one more try.

``I asked when they had tryouts and they told me to come back that next Monday with my cleats. You have to work really hard as a walk on to get noticed and that's what I did,'' Norris said. ``I'm a competitive person and the goal is always to do the best you can do. I didn't want to play scout team for four years. I'm working toward a higher goal.''

Norris has worked especially hard in the weight room and film room to boost his power down in the trenches and his knowledge of making line calls as the Knights center. He is competing with fellow walk-on Jordan Rae and true freshman Perry Meiklejohn for the starting center job. Cliff McCray is also a possibility at center, but he must first gain his eligibility for a sixth year from the NCAA.

But Norris is the leader to land the job because of his incredible strength. He graduated high school having maxed out at 390 pounds on the bench press, but he steadily improved his strength after working with UCF strength and conditioning coaches Ed Ellis and Scott Sinclair. The incredible power has helped him blow defensive linemen off the ball and control them at the line of scrimmage on pass blocking.

``I've been working really hard in the weight room since high school and (500 pounds) is a goal that I've wanted to achieve,'' Norris said. ``I went through a time out of high school where it plateaued, but when I got here working with the strength coaches, (the bench press strength) started growing. I guess you could classify me as country strong.''

Norris credits his strength to beginning football at a young age and being from a small town like Port St. Joe. ``It's a small town. We're a 1A high school. We're pretty small, but it's a good place to grow up. All there is to do is go fishing or playing football,'' Norris said.

UCF was in a similar situation last spring where it was breaking in a new center and Ian Bustillo blossomed into a starter for all 13 games. Now they are trying to do the same thing at center with Norris, Rae or McCray, and Meiklejohn.

``Zach has worked extremely hard and he's constantly in that film room learning and trying to make himself better,'' UCF offensive line coach Brent Key said. ``Jordan Rae is a kid we moved over from defense. He's tough, athletic and smart. And Perry Micklejohn graduated from high school early and he's a puppy and at times he'll be swimming, but he's got a bright, bright future. He's athletic and he's built like you want a center to be built.''

As much as he's worked on improving his strength, Norris has worked hard to learn all of the positions along the line so that he can make the calls for UCF. In the weeks before spring practice started, Norris spent plenty of hours in the film room and Key's office, talking blocking schemes along the offensive line. As an engineering major, he isn't like one to be overwhelmed by the schematics of blocking different defenses.

``Center is such a mental position,'' Norris said. ``It doesn't matter if you can make all the blocks in the world if you can't see the calls and direct traffic. Then, you are no good as a center if you can make the calls for the rest of the line.''


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