Jan. 31, 2012
By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - With UCF a season away from making the move from Conference USA to the BIG EAST, head coach George O'Leary and his staff delved into recruiting wanting to add bigger, rangier athletes to the roster.
If all goes well on Wednesday's National Signing Day, the Knights will add 22 scholarship athletes - many of them possessing the kind of height, weight and speed that O'Leary feels will help the program's transition into the BIG EAST in 2013.
``Right now, if the class holds up, we're on the right height, weight and speed tracks that we're looking for. And the key is that we've helped each of the positions out,'' O'Leary said on Tuesday. ``This class, as far as height and range, is quietly one of the better ones that we've brought in here. That will be critical with the BIG EAST coming into play in the next couple of years.''
O'Leary and his staff put the final touches on their recruiting class and they expect National Letters of Intent to start rolling into the football complex by 7 a.m. Wednesday morning. UCFAthletics.com will provide in-depth, up-to-the-minute coverage of the signings throughout the day on Wednesday.
While some experts aren't lauding the potential impact of this UCF recruiting class - a prospect here or there on the fence could dramatically change that - O'Leary cautioned fans against buying into the ``star'' rankings put out by several recruiting services. After all, some of the best players in UCF history were virtually overlooked coming out of high school.
Bruce Miller, a standout fullback this season with the San Francisco 49ers and UCF's all-time leader in sacks, was a two-star recruit in Georgia before blossoming into a star with the Knights. Kevin Smith and Josh Sitton, both of whom have gone onto have great success in the NFL after stellar careers at UCF, were seen as two-star recruits out of Florida high schools.
O'Leary said recruiting coordinator, Brent Key, and others on the coaching staff use the star system to initially identify talent. But then each athlete is analyzed based on their game film and given a final grade that includes a variety of factors. O'Leary doesn't put much stock into a highlight film because it's just that - highlights.
``The stars have some validity, but it doesn't tell the whole story, though. You still have to look at the game tape and watch the kid play,'' O'Leary said. ``Too many coaches today are looking at just highlight tapes and I've never seen a bad highlight tape. So I look at game tape and evaluate contact speed, their position and whether or not they have the height, weight and speed that we need them to play.
``I don't look at stars, but I'm sure my coaches do, and that's fine,'' O'Leary continued. ``I look at tape and I grade the tape on a recruiting sheet that I have used for a number of years. Height, weight and speed and the seven areas that pertain to each position are what I'm looking for. And after I give a grade it's usually fairly accurate as far as scholarship players.''
Many on the UCF coaching staff have lauded the addition of Director of Player Personnel Drew Hughes for bringing a renewed energy to UCF's recruiting efforts. Hughes, hired by UCF in December, worked previously at the University of Alabama where he helped the Crimson Tide acquire some of the talent that has helped them win two of the past three national championships.
Of the 22 players the Knights are expected to sign on Wednesday, there will be an emphasis on the quarterback, offensive line and receiver positions. O'Leary wanted bigger receivers and linemen who had both mobility and toughness. Also, with only Blake Bortles on the roster at quarterback, the Knights needed more depth and competition at the signal-caller position.
``The needs of the class were offensive linemen and wide receivers. We went after them right away because of what we lost in graduation. And we wanted to help out each individual position as best we could,'' O'Leary said. ``Obviously quarterback was an area of need. Those three areas - quarterback, offensive line and receiver - where we needed to get people in who could possibly get in the depth chart right away. That was the thrust of the class.''
While O'Leary said the fact that the Knights have accepted entrance into the BIG EAST opened some doors in recruiting, he expects the full impact to hit in two years once UCF is firmly entrenched in the automatic-qualifier league.
``It helped in some matters, but until you get your footprints in there and actually play in the BIG EAST, that's when it will be more of a factor,'' he said. ``Right now, it's two years down the road and kids don't look that far ahead. They want to know, `What have you done for me lately?' But when our footprint is there all the way, I think us being in the BIG EAST will be a major factor in recruiting.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.