As he approached the thick wooden doors leading to head coach George O'Leary's office, Brandon Alexander wasn't sure what to expect. UCF had just wrapped a disappointing 2011 campaign, and Alexander had never been in his head coach's office.
It was Jan. 3, 2012, and Alexander was back on campus for the spring semester. After a season of blood, sweat and hours of film study, Alexander was being rewarded for his work.
"He told me to call my mom, and I called her and she was crying on the phone," Alexander said. "It was just a wonderful feeling and I'll never forget that day — Jan. 3."
Alexander had just been put on scholarship, and his life changed forever.
"When I first came here I saw the coaching staff and they were really generous. The first player I saw when I was here was Sean Beckton," Alexander said. "He was a walk-on also, and he told me it didn't matter if I was a scholarship player or a walk-on — everybody is a brother around here. That really stuck with me."
Alexander's story is not unique to the UCF program. Thirty-four of the 105 players on the UCF roster are currently walk-ons, and 10 current players were once walk-ons and now are on scholarship. Familiar faces such as J.J. Worton, Shawn Moffitt and Beckton are among the players who have received scholarships since coming to UCF.
UCF holds an annual walk-on tryout that is open to any enrolled student. For those who dream of playing under the lights, like UCF will Friday at 8 p.m. against Tulsa, the tryout is a chance to prove to the staff that they belong on the team's roster. Of the 77 players that showed up to the initial walk-on meeting, five remain on the team.
Meanwhile, as Worton continues to write his name into the UCF record books, he doesn't forget his humble beginnings without a scholarship — albeit a short time.
Video: J.J. Worton plays "Tell the People", dishes on the team's most romantic player, something we don't know about him and more. Jazmyne Hankerson, Central Florida Future
"You definitely play with a chip on your shoulder," Worton said. "That feeling you get when you do get put on is an unbelievable feeling. You call your parents and you tell them. It's something you dream of, being able to come to school for free and play the game that you love — luckily I got through the summer and I did well enough where I got put on right away."
In his first career game, Worton caught three passes against Charleston Southern and as a freshman he led the team in receiving yards.
O'Leary has seen success throughout his 11-season tenure in finding unheralded high school players and helping them reach their potential. With the contributions that Alexander and Worton have provided over the years in mind, the ability to find the diamond in the rough has been crucial to the rise of the UCF program.
"They're not far from being scholarship guys," O'Leary said.
"They're probably a smile away from getting a scholarship while they were getting recruited."
O'Leary has every practice filmed from multiple angles, and spends hours locked away in his office weekly reviewing the practice tape. That's how he discovered Alexander, and many other players who have found their way onto the game field.
"I base it on the show field," O'Leary said. "I'm happy to reward them because I think it keeps great morale on the show field, too."
What may have been a detriment to Alexander in his recruitment was that he was used as a defensive end at Evans. Upon arriving at UCF he was switched to cornerback, and later to safety. To date, Alexander is third on the defense in tackles, has two interceptions and a game-saving forced fumble against Houston.
Worton, who received zero stars from Rivals.com, only had three offers when he decided to take his talents north from Miami to UCF. Worton, who is currently the team's leading receiver, was told by the coaching staff that he would be given a scholarship as soon as one became available. After his first summer in Orlando, he was rewarded with a scholarship.
But his biggest accomplishment, in his eyes at least, was graduating without using any of the Florida Prepaid college plan his grandfather set up for him soon after his birth.
"I told him that I was going to give it back to him because I am never going to use it," Worton said. "I graduated without using any of his credits and so when I leave here, I'll get that check and it will be the first thing I do is give it back to him.
"He's raised a grandson that can fend for himself. He probably won't accept it, but he's probably my biggest fan."
Worton knew what he was getting himself into when he came to Orlando. His oldest brother, Cody, was once a walk-on at the Florida, and due to injuries was never put on scholarship.
Regardless of what the front-page stories and National Signing Day television specials may say, Alexander's message to walk-ons is simple.
"I always tell the walk-ons that you can actually earn a scholarship and you can actually do what I did," Alexander said. "I wasn't the fastest guy, the strongest guy, not the tallest or biggest, but I worked really hard."
And one day, they too may get the call to the coach's office.