In just over seven months, from the Knights’ 34-27 loss to North Carolina State in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl to now, UCF’s football program has gone through a whirlwind of transactions, emotions, hellos and goodbyes.
The offseason saw new faces as the director of athletics and offensive coordinator positions vacated. It saw wide receiver Breshad Perriman drafted in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft and safety Clayton Geathers selected three rounds later. It left holes in the backfield with the team’s four leading tacklers leaving, and holes in the arm of redshirt freshman Chris Williams after being shot July 18.
But head coach and interim director of athletics George O’Leary is confident in his team’s ability to perform in the upcoming season.
“I don’t see a situation where there’s any immediate concerns at all,” he said. “I think we’re going to be a very solid football team. We have some growing pains at certain positions, but that’s why you get paid to coach and that’s why you have practice.”
The growing pains include filling wide receiver slots left by Perriman, J.J. Worton, Rannell Hall and Josh Reese, who combined for 2,610 out of 3,059 total yards through the air, and a leadership role vacated by former team captain, leading tackler and current Washington Redskins’ linebacker Terrance Plummer.
O’Leary is confident that redshirt senior Thomas Niles has the ability to step up and become one of the team’s leaders, though.
“From a maturity standpoint, it’s time for him to step up and be the leader I think he can be,” he said.
Last season, Niles led the Knights in sacks with 7.5 and was named UCF’s Outstanding Defensive Lineman, a member of the American Athletic Conference Second Team and placed on the Outland Trophy Watch List by the Football Writers Association.
“Everything we do is supposed to be hard. A game is easy compared to the practices we have. The way we work out helps us win games in the fourth quarter,” Niles told the Central Florida Future before the start of the 2014 season.
On the other hand, wide receiver roles will be filled by sophomore Jordan Akins, who is the only returning receiver who put up more than 100 yards through the air last season, and redshirt junior Taylor Oldham, who O’Leary said is sidelined with an injury until October.
Quarterback Justin Holman will help running backs William Stanback and Dontravious Wilson add yards with the ground game, which O’Leary anticipates will have a large impact on the team’s total yards.
“The big thing is, you want to be able to do what the defense gives you. So we’ve went into every season saying it’ll be 60/40 — 60 percent run, 40 percent pass,” O’Leary said. “If the defense is putting eight [or] nine guys at the line of scrimmage, it’ll be 60 percent the other way.
“It really depends on what the defense gives us the opportunity to do.”
UCF will shift into high gear when preseason camp begins Aug. 5. The team’s first game is at home on Thursday, Sept. 3 at 6 p.m. against Florida International.
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JHeil11 or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.