John Denton's Knights Insider: A Long Road Traveled

Nov. 22, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. - Someday soon, Rob Calabrese has hopes of becoming a football coach on either the high school or collegiate level. And he got some on-the-job training this season, serving as a quasi-coach for UCF as he sat out because of a second season-ending knee injury.

But Calabrese's dreams of coaching will be put on hold next year as he will make one more attempt at playing for the Knights in 2012.

Calabrese, UCF's starting quarterback for parts of the 2008, '09 and '10 seasons, tore a ligament in his knee midway through last year. Then, after switching positions to wide receiver, he reinjured his knee again in preseason drills and was lost for this season.

In an attempt to stay close to the team, Calabrese threw himself into his role as a liaison between the coaching staff and the players. But not long after having a second knee surgery, Calabrese said he decided he wanted to return to UCF for a fifth season for a chance to play again.

``Of course, I want to play because I'm a player. I haven't gotten to play in a game in almost two years. I want to get back, lift weights and be a part of the team again,'' Calabrese said. ``Right now I'm going to rehab right after the meetings for two hours a day. I'm rehabbing like I'm going to play again. It's going well, I've just started jogging and I'll be ready for spring.''

Calabrese will be on the sidelines wearing a headset on Friday when UCF (4-7 overall and 2-5 in Conference USA play) closes out the regular season against UTEP (5-6 and 2-5) at Bright House Networks Stadium. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally by CBS Sports Network.

Because UCF failed to qualify for a bowl game following three straight losses to Tulsa, Southern Miss and East Carolina, Friday's game will be the final one for 15 UCF seniors. Calabrese arrived at UCF with many of those players, but he won't be taking part in the Senior Day festivities because he plans to return after using the 2011 season as a redshirt year.

Sophomore Jeff Godfrey and redshirt freshman Blake Bortles, who will once again split the snaps under center on Friday, are both expected back next season. Calabrese said he's unsure whether he will play quarterback, wide receiver - or even possibly defensive back - and the decision is out of his hands.

``That's up to coach (George O'Leary),'' he said. ``I want to help this team in any way, so whatever he says I'll do.''

Calabrese's willingness to help the team was evident this season with the way he stayed involved in position meetings and played an active role on the sidelines. During games, he often wears a headset, relaying messages to the quarterbacks and receivers from offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe.

He feels his work on the sidelines and in meetings this season will ultimately reach his dream of being a head football coach someday. But for now his focus is affixed on getting back as a player next season.

``Helping with the quarterbacks and the receivers is something that I've wanted to do. And as soon as I got hurt, I knew I wanted to do that right away,'' Calabrese said. ``This was a very big learning year for me. I was just talking to (offensive line) coach (Brent) Key about being sorry for all of the mistakes that I have made. I can see why (the coaches) get so mad now. I do see it from a coach's role now, and it's good that I'm getting this experience now.

``But I made the decision (to return as a player) right after (the injury) because I knew that I wanted to play again,'' Calabrese continued. ``Talking with the doctors, it's up to them to clear me. But once they clear me, I want to play.''

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