Justin Holman: Quarterback
It’s always a tough task to replace a quarterback in college football, especially when he winds up as the third overall pick in the NFL Draft.
Fortunately for Holman, he had one year to learn under former Knights’ star Blake Bortles — appearing in three games during his true freshman season — before he was beaten out by Pete DiNovo for the starting spot last year.
After early season struggles forced head coach George O’Leary to shake up the offense a bit, Holman came out on top and started the final 12 games of the season.
Holman may have received some flak from anxious fans, but he proved worthy of the starting gig. After a 38-10 loss at Missouri, he led the team to nine of 10 wins to close out the regular season and berthed them into the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl.
At the team’s annual awards banquet after the season, Holman was selected as the most Outstanding Offensive Player. Completing 223-of-392 passes (56.9 percent) and throwing 23 touchdowns, he certainly deserved it.
Fans should be excited to see what he has in store for the team during the 2015 campaign.
William Stanback: Running Back
After seeing Storm Johnson go to the Jacksonville Jaguars during the summer of 2014, Knights fans may have wondered how good the backfield would be last season. Stanback answered that call as he filled the gap.
As a true freshman, he was overshadowed by the prowess that Johnson possessed but still rushed for 443 yards and six scores, which was 171 more yards than Bortles but 696 less than Johnson.
Stanback made himself a dual threat on the Knights’ offense during their run to back-to-back American Athletic Conference run last season. He led the offense in rushing with 697 yards and 10 touchdowns and added depth through the air, catching 11 passes for two scores.
Going into his junior season, he will continue to excel and may have what it takes to get to the next level.
Thomas Niles: Defensive Line
Offense receives the brunt of attention in football, but the other side of the line deserves just as much credit. After all, they’re the last line of defense. And when the offense struggles, they’re is there to pick the team up.
Thomas Niles will be the guy leading the Knights’ pickup efforts this season.
The top five tacklers of UCF’s potent defense from a season ago are gone. Niles is left to fend for himself or teach his teammates the ropes. So far, he’s doing the latter.
Niles is going into his senior season and has what it takes to be a leader. After redshirting his freshman year, he has played in every game since then and had his best showing last season, leading the team with 7.5 sacks while adding 49 tackles.
His efficiency off the line and experience on the field are much needed traits for a predominately young Knights defense going into the 2015 season.
Jordan Akins: Wide Receiver
Get used to hearing the name Akins, because it will likely be murmured throughout the loudspeaker of Bright House Networks Stadium as well as college football analysts.
He has the most receiving yards among the Knights’ returners with 135 yards on 12 receptions. But none of the returning receivers have found the end zone in college.
After four years in the minor league baseball system, Akins returned to the gridiron last season and made five starts, seeing action in all 13 games.
Akins will likely be the team’s primary kick returner this season. He ran back 15 kicks for a total 363 yards last year, including a 68-yard return in the season opener against Penn State.
Shaquill Griffin: Cornerback
Griffin had the chance to learn behind current NFL players Brandon Alexander, Clayton Geathers and Jacoby Glenn for two seasons. The thing he learned most was leadership and he will try to convey that to his teammates this season.
He had 17 tackles and hauled in one interception last season.
Griffin will lead a primarily young defense deep in the secondary.
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JarrodHeil or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.