Sept. 10, 2010
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - A.J. Guyton's first college game was three years ago at NC State and he remembers three things from that afternoon - his churning nerves, his then-freshman record five receptions and Kevin Smith bolting 80 yards on the game's first play for a touchdown.
So when UCF assistant head coach/wide receivers coach David Kelly talks to veteran wide outs Guyton and Kamar Aiken about being ``our Kevin Smith for this season,'' Guyton knows just the kind of dominant on-field performer and strong off-field leader that his coach is referring to.
Guyton has already been through a successful position switch as a freshman, a devastating knee injury in his second season and a solid bounce-back season in 2009. Now, he says confidently, it's his time to become a dominant force for UCF.
``The team sort of looks at me, Bruce Miller, Kamar (Aiken) and (Derrick) Hallman as captains because we've been here for a minute and that's a role that I like,'' Guyton said. ``I'm really looking at this to be a breakout year for me. I'm hoping to help us win games and show what I can do.''
He showed plenty in the 38-7 season-opening romp against South Dakota, catching eight passes for 127 yards and one touchdown. Another big performance like that on Saturday against NC State (1-0) and the Knights (1-0) could leave Bright House Networks Stadium with their biggest victory in three years.
Guyton knows that beating NC State to open the 2007 season gave UCF the confidence to ultimately go on and win the Conference USA title that year, and he thinks the same thing is very possible this year.
``That (2007 NC State win) really boosted our confidence knowing that it was an ACC team and that we could play with some of the big cats in the country,'' Guyton said. ``We showed the world that day that we could be a big-time school. We went out that season and won the Conference USA and showed the world that we were for real.''
Smith, UCF's former All-American back, showed that the Knights were for real that day by darting 80 yards on the first play and running for 217 yards on the day. Guyton still remembers the performance fondly and Kelly has pushed him to be that kind of dominant player for the Knights.
``A.J. had a good spring, but in preseason practices he really took his game to another level,'' Kelly raved. ``I'm expecting a huge year out of A.J. I'm expecting a huge year out of the wide receivers group as a whole. They have to be leaders and this has to be their team and I have challenged them every day with this: `Who's going to be our Kevin Smith this year?' Our Kevin Smith this year should be our receivers.''
Guyton showed UCF's fan base that he was a real threat in his first game in a Knights uniform in 2007. Despite playing quarterback in high school in Homestead, Guyton made a quick transition to wide receiver by snagging five passes from the slot position in the opener. The fast start hid his nervousness that day while still learning the position and opening his college career in front of 57,000 fans.
``I got off the bus that day and I had the most butterflies ever. I remember that me and Aiken were on the wings (of the kickoff return team) and we were saying, `You can't run from it now, so we better face up to it,''' Guyton remembered. ``After that first kickoff return, I just told myself that it was like high school and I let it all go.''
Guyton's promise as a freshman fizzled the next season when he suffered a season-ending knee injury. But the rehabilitation and strength work that he put in with assistant strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair allowed him to have a solid junior season with a team-high 44 catches.
``I played last year without my brace and I'd say I was 95 percent. When I'm on the field I didn't even think about my ACL,'' Guyton said. ``I worked so hard with Coach Sinclair when I was coming off my injury and it helped. When the team was practicing I was on the side doing all of the cutting drills. Now, I'm more explosive and stronger. And I cut better because I did that every day on my injured leg and it just comes natural to me.''
Guyton laid the foundation for a big season over the summer when he earned Elite Knight status in the weightroom, meaning he added at least 50 pounds to five of his seven lifts. He set a new record for wide receivers on the bench press (395 pounds) and his squat press exceeded 500 pounds. All of that work has made him a force on the field despite his somewhat slight build at 5-foot-11, 196 pounds.
`I went hard at getting my legs stronger. I can feel it now and once I catch the ball it's really hard for one person to bring me down,'' Guyton said. ``If I don't make them miss, I'm at least going to make them go forward. I've got strong legs and I can really feel it running routes and exploding off the line. All of that work is going to make me better this year.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.