UCF Opens 2023 Spring Football Drills


The UCF football program officially began preparation for entrance into the Big 12 Conference on Monday, March 20, when the Knights held their first spring practice.
After a full decade as a member of the American Athletic Conference, UCF becomes a member of the Big 12 on July 1, 2023, and plays its initial football season in that league in 2023.
Gus Malzahn, in his third season at UCF following consecutive nine-win seasons and bowl appearances, will have a veteran collection of returnees (52 lettermen) to work with for 2023:    
--Starting quarterback, John Rhys Plumlee, who threw for 2,586 yards and 14 TDs (218 of 346, .630) in 2022
--Top rusher Plumlee, who ran for 861 yards and 11 TDs, and three of the Knights' top four ground-gainers overall, including running backs RJ Harvey (796 yards, 5 TDs) and Johnny Richardson (370 yards)
--Six of the top seven receivers from a year ago, paced by Javon Baker (56 catches for team-high 796 yards, 5 TDs) and Kobe Hudson (39 for 641, 7 TDs—all his production in final 10 games)
--Four of the Knights' top five tacklers from 2022, led by linebacker Jason Johnson (126 tackles) whose 9.0 tackles per game ranked third in the AAC
Starters returning on offense (6) are quarterback Plumlee (23 career starts—13 at UCF), wide receivers Baker (13 career starts) and Hudson (15 career starts—10 at UCF), offensive linemen Lokahi Pauole (34 career starts) and Tylan Grable (25 career starts—14 at UCF) and tight end Alec Holler (20 career starts; 22 catches for 276 yards, 1 TD in 2022).
Regulars back on defense (6) are end Josh Celiscar (54 tackles in 2022, 8.5 TFL, 26 career starts), outside linebacker Tre'mon Morris-Brash (52 tackles, team-high 13 TFL, team-high 6 sacks, 17 career starts), tackle Ricky Barber (49 tackles, 9 TFL, 12 QBH, 36 career starts—24 at UCF), Johnson (43 career starts—14 at UCF), plus cornerback Corey Thornton (50 tackles, team-high 7 PBU, 27 career starts) and safety Quadric Bullard (27 tackles, 20 career starts). Celiscar was the Knights' lone junior team captain in 2022.
Among specialists returning are placekicker Colton Boomer (14 of 15 on field goals), punter Mitch McCarthy (43.3-yard average on 38 punts) and kickoff specialist Ryker Casey (53 of 86 were touchbacks).
UCF ranked ninth nationally in rushing offense (228.3 per game, second in AAC) in 2022, the fifth straight season the Knights have averaged at least 196 yards per game. The Knights ranked fifth nationally in red-zone defense in 2022 (.707). Additional NCAA rankings for UCF in 2022 included:
--11th in first downs (342)
--13th in fumble recoveries (12)
--16th in total offense (469.5 yards per game, 2nd in AAC)
--16th in 3rd-down conversion percentage (.464)
--17th in 4th-down conversion percentage (.633)
--24th in fewest penalties per game (4.93 per game)
--31st in scoring (32.9 points per game)
--31st in pass completion percentage (.645)

Individual 2022 NCAA rankings for 2023 UCF returnees included:
--Quadric Bullard 1st in punt return TDs (with 2, both blocked)
--Colton Boomer 8th in field-goal percentage (.933)
--Xavier Townsend 16th in punt returns (9.3 yards each)
UCF returns 11 players who received either 1st-team, 2nd-team or 3rd-team all-conference recognition on at least one all-league team in 2022—Pauole (1st AAC coaches, Pro Football Network, Phil Steele), Barber (1st AAC, PFN, Steele), Morris-Brash (1st AAC, Steele), Johnson (1st AAC, Steele), Baker (2nd Pro Football Focus), Harvey (2nd PFN), Plumlee (2nd Steele), Thornton (3rd PFN), Grable (3rd PFN), Boomer (3rd PFN) and Townsend (3rd Steele as punt returner).
The Knights head into 2023 with two new coordinators—offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Darin Hinshaw (former standout UCF quarterback and assistant coach and a former offensive coordinator at UAB, Kentucky, Georgia Southern and Middle Tennessee State; also an assistant at Tennessee and Cincinnati) and defensive coordinator Addison Williams (he was promoted after two years as the UCF cornerback coach, including 2022 as assistant head coach). Also new to the UCF staff are linebacker coach Ernie Sims (former All-America linebacker at Florida State, the ninth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft by Detroit and most recently linebacker coach at South Florida) and running back coach Kam Martin (a UCF offensive assistant coach in 2021, a former Auburn running back for Gus Malzahn and most recently running back coach at Incarnate Word and Texas State). 
UCF moves into the Big 12 coming off a 2021 Gasparilla Bowl victory over Florida plus berths in the AAC Championship Game and Military Bowl in 2022. The Knights have won at least nine games in five of the last six seasons (59 combined wins in those six seasons, including a 25-game win streak in 2017-18) and qualified for bowl games in seven straight years.
UCF's schedule in 2022 featured two wins over ranked opponents—a home win against 20th-ranked Cincinnati (the two-time defending AAC champion) and a road victory over 18th-ranked and eventual AAC champion Tulane. Among losses for the Knights in 2022 were games against champions of the Cotton Bowl (Tulane), Birmingham Bowl (East Carolina), Fenway Bowl (Louisville) and Military Bowl (Duke).
The Knights' nine Big 12 assignments for 2023 are home dates against 2021 league champion Baylor (Sept. 30), West Virginia (Oct. 28), Oklahoma State (Nov. 11) and Houston (Nov. 25) and road games at defending Big 12 champion Kansas State (Sept. 23), Kansas (Oct. 7), Oklahoma (Oct. 21), Cincinnati (Nov. 4) and Texas Tech (Nov. 18). UCF's 2023 non-conference slate features a road date at Boise State (Sept. 9) and home contests versus Kent State (Aug. 31) and Villanova (Sept. 16). Eight of UCF's nine Big 12 opponents for 2023 played in bowl games in 2022, and all six road games are against 2022 bowl teams.  
The 2023 UCF spring football game is set for 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday, April 14, at FBC Mortgage Stadium.