John Denton's Knights Insider: Hungry for More

Sept. 2, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - For the ultra-competitive athlete, attaining success and accomplishing goals can sometimes turn into a vicious cycle. You win and briefly rejoice, but ultimately it just breeds a hunger for more winning. The carrot gets pushed out further and the monster within strives for more and more.

Such is the case now with a UCF football program still riding the wave of emotion from the finest season in school history in 2010. The accomplishments were many - an 11-win season, a Conference USA crown, a victory in the Liberty Bowl and a first-ever spot in the national rankings - sealing the legacy of last year's senior class.

But all of that success was like fuel to the players and the fanbase and the fire is burning now for even more. Expectations are at an all-time high, and George O'Leary and his players like them that way. The universal belief is that last year was merely a start and UCF is on a path now to fulfill its place as a dynamic and dominant power to reckoned with nationally.

That pursuit of more success begins Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Bright House Networks Stadium against Charleston Southern. UCF is hoping to kick off a season that will somehow top last season's dreamy run and end up with another conference title and a landmark spot in a major bowl game.

``We definitely feel like we've set a standard for this program and feel like we've shown people what we're capable of doing,'' senior tight end Adam Nissley said. ``I know the fans expect us to be as successful or more successful. As players we feel like there's a standard to uphold and be even better this season.''

After Saturday night's opener against a Charleston Southern team loaded with Florida players, UCF's schedule offers a variety of opportunities. Nonconference games against Boston College and BYU will give the Knights the stage to prove themselves against nationally known opponents. And in conference play, tough road games at SMU, East Carolina and Southern Miss loom, but UCF starts by knowing that every game on its schedule is winnable.

That has fueled some talk of a 12-0 regular season and UCF evolving into a ``BCS buster'' of sorts this season similar to what Boise State and TCU have done in the past. But that's just talk and O'Leary knows it's the work and the execution on the field that will ultimately decide UCF's fate.

``It's a new year and we're looking for consistency as far as the program is concerned. With expectations people just look at what we did last year, but my expectations are that we have an opportunity to play well and win each game, but we still have to play well and win the games,'' O'Leary said. ``So I don't talk to our team about last year; I talk in terms of it being a new season, a new team and with new chemistry. There are a lot of kids who have to prove themselves each and every game. In terms of expectations, the fanbase should have high expectations, but they need to show it too by coming to the games and doing the things that a good fanbase does.''

Sparked by a massive marketing campaign asking fans to ``UKNIGHT and get THE PATCH,'' UCF is hoping that a fanbase expecting big things will turn out in big numbers this season at Bright House Networks Stadium. O'Leary wants the fans to be loud and in their seats early, point out that UCF is 27-4 when leading after the first quarter since 2006. Conversely, when the Knights start slowly, they are just 7-20 in that same timeframe.

Senior Ronnie Weaver, who won the hotly contested battle for the starting running back position between he, Latavius Murray and Brynn Harvey, said the Knights feed off the energy inside the stadium, especially the student section that sits right above the UCF locker room.

``We can feel them jumping up and down in our locker room, and most of the time the doors start shaking because the fans are jumping so much,'' Weaver said. ``The feeling running out onto the field with the noise is indescribable.''

The Knights are hoping to make a lot of noise this season with several key returners back on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Jeff Godfrey is back after a dazzling freshman season, as are the three-headed tailback corps. They will be running behind an offensive line with four returning starters that boast 86 career starts.

Defensively, ends Darius Nall and Troy Davis hope to fill the void left by the departure of all-time sacks leader Bruce Miller. Senior linebacker Josh Linam is a veteran anchor in the middle, surrounded by standout freshman Leilon Willingham and converted linebacker Jonathan Davis. And UCF's secondary features one of the best cornerback-safety duos in the country with Josh Robinson and Kemal Ishmael.

Put it all together and the Knights believe they have what it takes to win big this season - maybe even bigger than last season. More than a few players noted that the team felt slighted by being left out of the Top 25 in both polls after climbing to No. 20 and 21 last season and that's a driving force now.

``I think some people see us as one-hit wonders last year, so we've got to come back and show people that we're here to stay,'' senior wide out A.J. Guyton said. ``We want to show them that UCF football is for real and we want to get on top.''

Nissley, a fifth-year senior, has talked openly about being envious of last year's senior class and the way that group of players was able to end their college careers. He knows that this year's seniors can stamp their legacy on the program with a potential third conference title ring while also vaulting UCF higher into the national spotlight.

``To me, that's the best way you can go out as a senior - conference champions and Liberty Bowl champions. That was a great group of kids we had last year and I was happy to see them go out on that note,'' said Nissley, UCF's strongest player with a 530-pound bench-press and 38 reps on the pro bench (225 pounds). ``Now, it's our turn. Going into my fifth year, I want to be able to end my career at UCF on a really high note. It's on us to make that happen.''

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