John Denton's Knights Insider: The South Florida Area Connection

Sept. 13, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - At the end of a long, hot practice earlier this week, UCF head coach George O'Leary called up his team and asked those hailing from South Florida to stand while others kneeled.

It wasn't until that moment, when some 27 of the team's players proudly rose to their feet, did the enormous impact his home region has had on the UCF football program finally hit senior receiver A.J. Guyton.

He saw integral pieces of the team - quarterback Jeff Godfrey, starting offensive linemen Nick Pieschel, Jordan Rae and Justin McCray and standout defensive backs Josh Robinson and Kemal Ishmael - and beamed with pride. Guyton knows much of UCF's success is because of the program's strong South Florida pipeline of talent and that success will ultimately shed light in South Florida that the Knights are a big-time powerhouse.

``I really do think we have (opened eyes in South Florida),'' said Guyton, a Homestead native. ``Usually the commercials down there are just talking about Florida and Miami, but I heard one (during the summer) that mentioned UCF. I know that young kids down there are seeing where we came from and watching what we did against Boston College and that should opened even more eyes up that UCF can compete with anyone.''

UCF's large contingent of players from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties will be enjoying a homecoming game of sorts when the Knights (2-0) face Florida International (2-0) Saturday night at 6 p.m.

UCF's players have spent much of their off-time early in the week, trying to round up tickets for family and friends planning to attend. Some, such as Robinson and Guyton, have come up with as many as 25 tickets to accommodate all of their requests. The Knights will be playing in South Florida for the first time since 2008 when they lost 20-14 to the University of Miami. That was the first collegiate start for Pieschel, a fifth-year senior, and he's seen a major metamorphosis in the UCF program in the last few years.

``When I first started here, UCF wasn't really on the map for many kids down there in South Florida. But now that we've had a couple of successful seasons people are starting to recognize us and they want to come here,'' Pieschel said. ``Showing people in South Florida what we can do, that's so big for the program.''

Both UCF and FIU are coming off landmark victories heading into this game. UCF thumped Boston College 30-3 by once again playing suffocating defense and getting a big game from Godfrey. Meanwhile, as UCF was preparing for its BC game, it looked on as FIU was whipping Louisville 24-17 last Friday night on national television.

``FIU's win, the kids got a chance to see it and they were impressed with it because they know good football,'' O'Leary said. ``(FIU) played fast on defense and you could see that they were well-coached as far as being where they are supposed to be. Our kids understand that the (Boston College) game was over Saturday and I was glad to see comments made regarding FIU. They've bought in what we've talked about with 12 one-game seasons. We're playing a team that's in-state, is 2-0 and coming off a big win. They have a lot riding on the game, but so do we. Our kids understand those things and we'll be ready.''

Quite possibly no UCF player has helped blaze the path from South Florida to Orlando more so than Godfrey, a Miami native. Overlooked by most colleges as a quarterback because of his slight 5-foot-11, 181-pound frame, Godfrey jumped at the chance at a scholarship at UCF to prove his doubters wrong. Has he ever? In his first season he was Conference USA's Freshman of the Year while helping UCF author the school's finest season ever. Already, this season he's run for five touchdowns while also completing 74.3 percent of his passes.

``He was such a high-profile recruit coming out of high school, but no one would give him a chance at quarterback,'' Guyton said. ``So he came here, he's done really (well) and he's doing his thing. Now kids from South Florida see him doing it here and they know they can do it too. Godfrey put us on the map and we're trying to keep it going.''

Added linebacker Ray Shipman, who is Godfrey's cousin and a close confidant since their childhood days: ``He accomplished a lot of things down there and felt like he was (overlooked) by some schools. But he came here and now he's showing the nation that he's one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Knowing him, his mindset isn't that he has to go down (to FIU) and show people something. If he was like that he wouldn't be the player that he is now. He's a lot more mature than his age.''

And Shipman, a Miramar native, said that clearly the UCF football program is maturing right before the eyes of fans in football-crazed South Florida. The area is traditionally one of the most fertile recruiting hotbeds in America, and he said more of those elite players are now paying attention to UCF's steady climb.

``When I got here after transferring, the buzz was in the air a little bit about UCF. But when I went home after that Liberty Bowl game, people were asking, `What's with this UCF team?''' Shipman said with a chuckle. ``I know with how we've started this season, the buzz just keeps growing. Now, people can see that we can compete with anybody in Florida and anybody in the nation.''

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