John Denton's Knights Insider: Playing Forward

Sept. 8, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Unlike last time, when his college career unexpectedly started on a whim, Ray Shipman actually had time to worry about playing linebacker for the first extended time since high school.

Shipman's season-opening action last week, you see, was different than most debuts. He wasn't just at a new position; he was in a new sport all together. And understandably, there were plenty of butterflies.

The former University of Florida basketball player not only saw his first extensive action at linebacker in UCF's 62-0 throttling of Charleston Southern last Saturday night, but he also played well. He had four stops, one of which was a tackle for a loss. Finally, the former ``Mr. Basketball 2008'' in the state of Florida felt whole-heartedly like an integral part of the football team.

``I'm a football player now. I'm in the groove now, but I still have a long, long way to go because of all that time I sat out. There's no more basketball excuses for me,'' said Shipman, a 6-foot-5, 237-pound redshirt junior. ``I had that (scout team) year - maybe not playing all of the time - but I had that year in pads to understand the plays. College football is way different than high school. In high school, I'd just run around and hit people. Just sitting back and listening to scouting reports and game plans and now I'm in the game plan, now I'm fully a football player.''

Shipman could figure heavily into UCF's game plan on Saturday when the Knights (1-0) host Boston College (0-1) at 8 p.m. at bright House Networks Stadium. The Knights fully expect Boston College to challenge them physically with the running game, especially if Montel Harris - the leading rusher in the ACC last season and the conference's preseason Player of the Year - returns following knee surgery two weeks ago. BC also lost 6-foot-6 wide out Ifeanyl Momah (eight catches for 171 yards in the opener) to a season-ending knee injury, shifting the focus back to the running game of Harris (3,600 career rushing yards) and Andre Williams (122 rush yards in the opener).

``They're a smashmouth football team and it's going to be a challenge for us, especially us at linebacker,'' Shipman said. ``(Defensive) Coach (John Skladany) told us that their coach said in his press conference that they were going to come down here and run the ball, so it'll be a big challenge for all of us young linebackers. They're thinking they're going to punch us in the mouth, but we have to come back. What I'm learning if you're going to have some plays where you mess up, it's about not looking backward. We have to punch them back in the mouth.''

Getting knocked around and knocked down is still something relatively new to Shipman, who played football only his senior season at Monsignor Pace High School in Miramar. He split time as a safety and a wide receiver, but was much better known as a basketball player where he led Pace to Class 4A state titles in 2007 and 2008.

That helped earn Shipman a basketball scholarship to the University of Florida where he figured he'd likely never play football again. He appeared in 68 games over two seasons with the Gators, averaging 3.3 points and 1.8 rebounds, but left the program because he said he missed playing football.

After transferring to UCF, he was initially told he would have to sit out last season because of NCAA rules. But it was ultimately determined that Shipman was immediately eligible because he was switching sports and he was instated to the team just days before the opening game last season.

As a second-string blocker on the punt coverage team, Shipman never figured he'd play last season, but that all changed when the player ahead of him on the depth chart went down with an injury. Though he's been with the team just slightly more than a month, Shipman was sent in to block and cover the punt. But first, he had to tie his shoes. And there was no time to fret.

``Last year when I got in that one game I wasn't even nervous because I didn't even know I was getting in. Only afterwards was I nervous, wondering if I messed up,'' he said with a laugh. ``This game, I was nervous but I was prepared so that made it not seem so bad. My thing was not thinking about the crowd or what was coming next and just going through the same things I did in practice.

``I'd give myself a C because I'll never be satisfied,'' continued Shipman, referring to his play from last Saturday. ``I cut down my errors from camp and scrimmages, but it's hard to judge yourself against Charleston Southern - no disrespect to them. But if I think I'll have the same performance against Boston College with how I played, it's just not going to happen.''

Shipman is a part of an overhauled linebacker corps that features just one player - senior Josh Linam - who saw significant game action last season. Outside backer Jonathan Davis is a converted tailback, while true freshman Leilon Willingham made his first-ever start after impressing coaches in camp with his maturity and toughness. Davis had four tackles and a sack in the opener, while Willingham added three stops. Fellow true freshman Terrance Plummer recorded five tackles, including one stop for a loss.

``The speed of the game is the first adjustment for those guys and then it's about staying focused and reading your keys,'' Linam said of the challenges facing UCF's young linebackers. ``That's the two biggest things for those guys, but I've been impressed with how they have played.''

From his basketball days at Florida, Shipman knows that a game like this against an ACC foe is another opportunity for UCF to prove that it can compete with any team in the country. He balks at the notion that UCF is the inferior team because it doesn't have BCS status like BC does, saying that the Knights proved last season to be one of the nation's elite programs. Shipman said the Knights head into Saturday's showdown with all the confidence needed to exit with another victory.

``Being at Florida we were always the premier school that smaller schools would want to make a name on. Boston College is in the ACC, but we know we here at UCF can play with anybody in the country,'' Shipman said. ``It aggravates me when I'm going to class and people ask if we're ready for Boston College or if we think we can win. I just feel like we can compete with them and we can beat them. If we go out and execute like we know how, we can play with anybody in the country. We might not have as many accolades as Boston College, but we know we can compete. It aggravates me when people say it's a big game because to me every game is a big game. We proved that last year with Georgia (in the Liberty Bowl). We were happy we won the game, but it wasn't like, 'Oh my goodness, we beat Georgia!' We know we can play with anybody in the country.''

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