John Denton's Knights Insider: Rob Calabrese Adjusting Well to New Role

April 6, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - A knee injury and the remarkable rise of Jeff Godfrey ensured that Rob Calabrese's future with the UCF football team won't be at quarterback. But his next roles - as a wide receiver and a team leader - might ultimately prove to be more rewarding for the senior-to-be.

Determined to find a place on the field for the tough and heady Calabrese, UCF head coach George O'Leary moved him from quarterback to slot receiver this spring. With a team that just lost 19 seniors, O'Leary is determined to find a way to get Calabrese, one of UCF's most respected players, out on the field next season.

``Moving Rob just makes us a better team. There's no question he's one of the most respected guys on the team in terms of leadership and locker room presence,'' said O'Leary, whose Knights return to the practice field Thursday morning for the 10th of 15 spring practices. ``I wanted to give him an opportunity to get out on the field and I think he can help us.''

Hearing O'Leary's high praise has to help Calabrese, who is working this spring to recover from a torn knee ligament suffered last season on a touchdown run at Marshall. Calabrese, UCF's opening night starter at quarterback each of the past two seasons, is trying to make the transition from signal-caller to wide receiver. But a role that he takes even more seriously is that of being one of UCF's senior leaders.

``That role means a lot to me because I've put a lot of time in and work in,'' Calabrese said. ``To have coach say something like (about his leadership skills), and hopefully have these guys look up to me, I want to take that role and run with it. I'm trying my best to lead and trying my best to be a mentor to these young guys.''

Calabrese earned major points with the team last fall when after injuring his knee in the sixth game of the season he stayed close to the squad and assisted Godfrey, UCF's star freshman quarterback. Even after having surgery to repair the torn ACL in his left knee, Calabrese was on the sidelines signaling in plays and suggesting ideas to Godfrey.

Now, with Godfrey firmly in place as the starter and redshirt freshman Blake Bortles emerging as the backup, Calabrese's future is at wide receiver. He's worked some this spring as the Knights' third quarterback and he will likely be the emergency quarterback next season. But he knows that his future playing time will be revolved around his ability to catch the ball and block for backs out of the backfield.

And Calabrese is the first to admit that being away from the quarterback position is somewhat liberating for him. He played as a true freshman in 2008 before he was ready and started the season in 2009 only to be replaced by senior transfer Brett Hodges. He split time with Godfrey early last season before a 2-yard touchdown run at Marshall ended with a grotesque pop in his left knee.

Now, six months later, he's back on the field as a receiver. He said it's a welcome relief to not have all eyes peering at his every throw as a quarterback. Now, he can simply relax and have fun playing football again.

``Coach (David) Kelly talked to me about that. My first couple of days at receiver I had a couple of drops and he told me, `You have to just calm down.' To play receiver you have to play relaxed and play with some swagger to yourself,'' Calabrese said. ``I took that to heart and I'm trying to play more relaxed now running routes. It's so different than quarterback because at quarterback everybody is watching you. At receiver I still put pressure on myself, but not as much as I did in the past.''

O'Leary has called Calabrese one of the smartest players he's ever coached and he likes how he's learned every facet of the offense. But Calabrese said he still has plenty to learn as a receiver before he can even entertain the thought of helping the Knights out this fall. He said the rigors of the position are much more demanding than he ever imagined.

``It's a very tough position. I thought catching the ball would be easy, but when there are guys around you and the wind is blowing and you are thinking about a lot of things, it's tough to catch the ball,'' he said. ``And conditioning-wise it's tough because I've never run this much. I normally would just drop back as a quarterback. Now, you are running the route, running back and blocking too. I have to work on my techniques and I have all summer to work on that.''

Calabrese is hoping after the spring drills and a summer of weight-lifting that his knee will be strong enough to help him regain the explosiveness that made him an elusive runner as a quarterback. Straight-line running isn't a problem, but cutting is still an issue and he hopes that more strength will make him quicker and sharper out of cuts.

Regardless, Calabrese said he knows his role on this team is to be an emotional leader in the locker room and on the field. It's a role that he still takes seriously - regardless of whether he's a quarterback or a receiver.

``I feel the responsibility as a senior to step up because Coach O'Leary really leans on his seniors,'' Calabrese said. ``We need to do a better job of leading and making sure we're fired up and getting everybody ready to practice. I want to be one of the leaders for this team.''


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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.