John Denton's Knights Insider: Football Season Finally Begins

Sept. 4, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - In their downtime, far away from the rigors of summer camp and game preparation, UCF's football players often allow their minds to wander and dream about the possibilities of this season.

Because of a perfect storm of sorts - a big senior class, loads of experienced starters back, an influx of dynamic young talent and a favorable schedule - the Knights are certainly dreaming big this season. If things fall right and they play up to expectations, a conference championship and potentially a first-ever national ranking could be well within grasp for UCF.

And those things have UCF's players dreaming big.

``We all feel like there's a great opportunity ahead of us to do something not many teams here have had the chance to do,'' tight end Adam Nissley said. ``We do everything right, we could go undefeated or maybe have a one-loss season. We feel like we have what it takes to have a championship season and go to a great bowl games. But we can't think that it's just going to fall into place. We have to keep putting in the work and make it happen.''

That work starts tonight at 6 p.m. when UCF hosts South Dakota at Bright House Networks Stadium. With the Coyotes still relative newcomers to the Football Championship Subdivision Level and a looming date next week with N.C. State, the tendency might be there to overlook the season-opener. But UCF has vowed not to let that happen, looking at their schedule as ``12 one-game seasons.''

``We know this can be a special year, but we have to take each game like an individual season,'' senior defensive end David Williams said. ``If we mess up this first game, it would change everything for us. So since the schedule came out we've been looking at all of the teams that we're playing and getting excited about this year. We know we have great potential this year, but we have to take care of our business.''

UCF is loaded with star power what with Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Bruce Miller and Freshman All-American Josh Robinson anchoring the defense. And offensively, 6-foot-7 tackle Jah Reid and 6-foot-3 wide receiver Kamar Aiken are NFL prospects expected to have all-conference type of seasons for the Knights.

But there are also major question marks at some of the most important areas on the field. Rob Calabrese, a part-time starter each of the past two seasons, opens at quarterback, but will share duties with true freshman Jeff Godfrey. Calabrese played well in the spring and in fall camp and stressed that he's a vastly different quarterback than the one who was easily rattled by mistakes last season.

``I'm much more confident now and I'm just so excited to get things going,'' Calabrese said. ``I know that I'm going to go out there and execute and do everything that I need to do to be successful.''

The Knights will debut another new starter at tailback in Jonathan Davis. The sophomore from Georgia will be making his second career start because of a knee injury to Brynn Harvey, who is out until at least mid-September. Offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said that Davis was often ``a loose cannon'' last season, but the small-but-powerful back made tremendous strides in his discipline, pass protection pickups and hitting the correct holes.

``This big thing now is he doesn't have a chip on his shoulder,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said. ``He's matured and more willing to take corrections and not feel like we're picking on him all of the time. He's taken a coach-me-coach attitude and I see him studying film more now. It's part of the growth process for him.''

After losing second-round pick Torell Troup to the NFL, UCF will be starting two freshmen at defensive tackle in Victor Gray and E.J. Dunston. They are the first UCF freshmen to open the season at defensive tackle since 1997 and the first tandem of freshmen defensive tackles to start a season in O'Leary's 43 years of coaching.

If UCF can answer those questions at quarterback, tailback and defensive tackle and get continued production out of experienced groups at wide receiver, linebacker and defensive back the potential is certainly there for a great season. UCF has six home games, should be favored in at least 10 of its 12 regular-season games, plays East Division rivals Southern Miss and East Carolina at Bright House Networks Stadium and has winnable nonconference games against N.C. State, Buffalo and Kansas State after tonight's opener against South Dakota.

Add it all together and the Knights feel as though they are poised for greatness this season.

``We all know what we could be as a team this season and it starts on Saturday,'' Calabrese said. ``We've been working all preseason and we know we have something special here. Now, it's just up to us to go out and show everybody by executing.''


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