In his first year as a starting quarterback, Justin Holman was a mixed bag. There was the good — a brilliant second half against Penn State — and then of course the bad — a four-interception game in a loss to UConn.
However, entering his third spring game at UCF, and his first as the unquestioned starter, head coach George O'Leary believes his quarterback has taken a step toward reaching his immense potential.
"Justin Holman has improved, there is no question you can see that," O'Leary said after Wednesday's practice. "I think he understands the offense and he's throwing the right direction. Last year that wasn't the case."
In past years, the 6-foot-4 quarterback was overshadowed by his plethora of dynamic receivers. When Holman was in trouble, players like J.J. Worton, Breshad Perriman and Josh Reese were able to bail him out by making big plays. Now surrounding him in the huddle are numerous players who lack game-day experience.
The player who once deferred to his senior receiving options has become one of the most experienced offensive players seemingly overnight. And as the quarterback, he has been forced to become the team's leader.
"My first year starting I did have to depend on those guys," Holman said. "Now I'm kind of the big guy in the offensive room and those guys are looking at me for answers."
In his first season, Holman started all but one game, threw 23 touchdowns but also threw 14 interceptions. He also completed just 57 percent of his passes. But what has helped ease the transition to leadership is having a new voice and perspective as his quarterback coach.
Moving over from running backs coach to his natural spot coaching the quarterbacks, Danny Barrett brings real-life experiences and a focus on fundamentals to the quarterback room. A former Canadian Football League head coach and quarterback, Barrett has helped Holman develop both as a player and leader for the offense.
"I think he developed those leadership skills this spring," Barrett said. "We're working with a lot of youngsters on offense … so it's important for him to establish that leadership role."
Holman added: "These guys don't lack in talent, they just lack in experience. We're just going together in the summer and watch a lot of film and go over every situation in the field."
And experience matters. Last season Holman saw defensive looks he had never seen before. Players moved faster than they did in his high school days and ultimately the stakes were higher. But the experience could prove to be invaluable in becoming the leader that the UCF offense needs him to become.
"I think the experience has definitely helped me out because now you've seen every situation you can possibly be in, or at least practiced it," Holman said.
Coaches often preached last season that Holman needed to manage the game. However with increased game experience comes increased expectation.
Barrett said he tries to relate Holman's situation to former standout Blake Bortles' when Bortles was entering his junior season. Not only was it important for Bortles to become a better player, but the expectations of commanding a huddle, being mature on the field and making good decision became a necessity.
"I think the key for a guy like himself is not feeling like he has to do more than what is asked of himself," Barrett said. "Again that is protecting the football … and putting us in the right plays."
If you go ...
UCF Spring Game
When: Saturday 2 p.m.
Parking: Free in lots E6, E7, E8 starting at 8 a.m.
The buzz: Stadium gates open at 1 p.m. and pre-game festivities kick off at 11 a.m. on the south side of Bright House Networks Stadium including food trucks and a kids fun zone.
Ryan Gillespie is the Editor-in-Chief at the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @rgillespiecffor email him at RyanG@CentralFloridaFuture.com.