Change of plans: Calabrese shifts to wide-out
Published: Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 17:03
Rob Calabrese had always dreamed of playing quarterback at the next level.
In high school at East Islip, N.Y., where he led the Redmen to an undefeated championship season his senior year and broke most of former all-pro NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason's passing records, he was touted as one of the top pro-style signal-callers in the state.
It's no surprise that when UCF offered him a scholarship to possibly become the Knights' starting quarterback his first year on campus, Calabrese signed.
Now his plans are a little different.
In his senior season with the Knights, Calabrese will line up as a wide receiver catching passes from Jeff Godfrey, the Knights' newfound fixture under center.
Last season, the football program was shaken up a bit when head coach George O'Leary decided to go with Godfrey over Calabrese as his starting quarterback. Instead of distancing himself from the team or requesting some type of transfer because a true freshman took his job, the then-junior Calabrese took it all in stride. Calabrese took to mentoring Godfrey, who eventually led the Knights to a Liberty Bowl victory and a top-20 national ranking.
"I'm still going to keep that role, especially now that I'm a senior," Calabrese said. "It's my last year and coach always relies on seniors for team leadership."
Calabrese's team-first attitude was rewarded when he received the ‘UCF way' award for being the player who embodies the team's values.
The position switch to wide receiver is just another obstacle that Calabrese takes in stride. Calabrese, who is recovering from a knee injury that sidelined him last year, is working hard to get up to speed with his new position.
"I'm still a little bit slow, but it's good to be back out there on the field again," Calabrese said. "It's a lot more running so you got to be more conditioned. That's probably the toughest thing. I'm a little out of shape."
In a group of players that is headlined by speedy starters A.J. Guyton and Quincy McDuffie, Calabrese's timed 4.7 40-yard dash speed doesn't exactly stand out. However, Calabrese offers something that most of the group doesn't — the ability to pass.
There's already two wide receivers on the Knights that used to play quarterback in high school, Nico Flores and Marquee Williams. While Flores and Williams both can be considered threats in trick passing-play situations and in the ‘Wild Knight' formation, Calabrese offers something that both Flores and Williams don't — collegiate quarterback experience and senior leadership ability.
Calabrese will now not only be a part of the receivers, but also will still have his hand in the quarterback position.
"It makes sense to … give Rob a chance to run with the first and second [teams] and get some work done as a slot receiver," O'Leary said. "Plus, we will have a package for him as far as quarterback too. That's important and that is something he wanted to do. He wanted to get on the field and be a full timer on the field."
The addition of Calabrese to the receiving corps adds to the depth of the position and gives the Knights a legitimate threat on offense in their Wild Knight formation. Calabrese is hopeful that the offense will feature more trick plays now that he's a receiver.
"I hope so, but that's up to [offensive coordinator] Coach [Charlie] Taaffe," Calabrese said. "We did some stuff like that last year so hopefully we will do something like that."
UCF dabbled with the Wild Knight last year with both Flores and Calabrese. Look for the Wild Knight to be a bigger part of the offense this season especially with Calabrese healthy at receiver.
"Moving Rob in just makes us a better team," O'Leary said. "I think there is no question he is probably one of the most respected kids on the team as far as leadership, locker room and pretty much everything he has to do with the program and I want to give him an opportunity to get onto the field."