John Denton's Knights Insider: C-USA Champs Take Time To Give Back

Dec. 6, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Fifteen-year-old Jamila, all 5-foot of her, stood in the middle of towering offensive lineman Jah Reid, defensive ends Bruce Miller and David Williams, receiver Jamar Newsome and defensive back Darin Baldwin and beamed as her black and gold UCF hat was being autographed.

For more than an hour on Monday, while Jamila beat four UCF players and even coach George O'Leary in video games of Wii tennis and bowling, the tiny teenager smiled, laughed and played without a care in the world. Jamila, a native of Casselberry, is a pediatric patient at Florida Hospital For Children, but for one day she was playful, smiling and full of laughter.

``It was amazing getting to meet the UCF football players,'' Jamila said just seconds after getting five autographs on her new UCF hat. ``Playing Wii and getting them to sign my hat, those were the best parts for me.''

As he does every year during the holidays, O'Leary took UCF's 19 seniors to Florida Hospital For Children in an attempt to brighten the day for several pediatric patients. The group also came bearing gifts, passing out T-shirts, hats, posters and UCF Silly Bands. And as the players were interacting with the recovering children it was often difficult to tell which ones were having the most fun.

Brian, 17 of Orlando, and Ryan, an 8-year-old boy from Kissimmee, sat at a table playing with race cars and toy dinosaurs with Reid and Newsome. And each collision between the race cars and the dinosaurs on the toy race track brought out a hearty laugh from Ryan. Hearing that laughter, Newsome said, was sweet like music to his ears.

``It's a beautiful feeling being here,'' said Newsome, UCF's top receiver most of the season. ``I did a lot of volunteer work when I was in high school and I worked with a lot of elderly and younger kids who were going through things. It's very important to give back like this when you can because it helps them be healthier also. They say just a smile can make a person feel better and it's a beautiful feeling us doing this.''

The Knights (10-3) were just two days removed from winning their second Conference USA title in four seasons after beating SMU 17-7 on Saturday at Bright House Networks Stadium. Up next for the Knights is a spot in the Liberty Bowl against Georgia (6-6). UCF is appearing in its third bowl game in four seasons, but is still seeking its first bowl victory in school history.

UCF features 15 players from Georgia, more than any other state other than Florida. Seniors Brian Watters, Justin Boddie, Chance Henderson and Miller headline that group and are especially excited about getting the chance to face the Bulldogs in the Dec. 31 Liberty Bowl in Memphis. But their primary focus is to win the game and beat a traditional SEC powerhouse.

``It's an exciting time for UCF and exciting time for me to get in there and play the Georgia Bulldogs, being that I'm from that area. I can't wait to get into that game,'' said Miller, a native of Canton, Ga. ``It's very important (facing a SEC team). Coach O'Leary stresses to us to get the respect that we want you have to get out of the conference and win them. We have to win those games to get the respect that we feel like we deserve. We've said from Day 1 when we played NC State and Kansas State that those were two teams we could beat and we played hard against them. Against Georgia, we're going to win, not to just play a good game.''

Football was far from the Knights minds on Monday as many of the players bounced from room to room while visiting with the child patients at Florida Hospital For Children. One of the highlights, of course, was seeing O'Leary playing Wii tennis with the kids. The coaching veteran of 43 years dropped his sometimes tough exterior and cackled with laughter when he swung and missed a return volley on the video game against 15-year-old Jamila.

O'Leary said he always brings his players to the hospital to give the players a dose of life's true realities. He also wants UCF's players to serve as role models and be someone that children can look up to and admire.

``It's something that we try to do each and every year. Anytime you can get the kids here and show them what life's really about, you do it,'' O'Leary said. ``It's outstanding for them and the kids. I brought the seniors here today and they enjoy meeting with the little guys.''

David Williams, UCF's senior co-captain and a defensive end, enjoyed playing with some of the same toys that he had as a kid. Baldwin, a senior safety, slumped his shoulders after losing in Wii tennis. And Newsome made it a point to ask every child he met about their dreams and ambitions in life. And Watters said the visit to the hospital was a powerful experience that he won't soon forget.

``It's a feeling that you can't really explain spending time with the kids and the less fortunate ones, especially being around Christmas time,'' Watters said. ``Just seeing them smile and laugh it just brightens my whole day. It also lets us know how fortunate and blessed to be in the position that we're in. Seeing the smiles, it's just amazing.''


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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.