Since 2011, the Knights have seen good defensive players come and go. Redshirt senior defensive end Thomas Niles is no exception. Now, as a less-than-ideal season slowly enters its twilight, Niles hopes to end his UCF career representing the program the best way he knows how.
“All I do is just play hard,” Niles said. “That’s the main thing I do, just try to be as physical as I can and play hard every play.”
In a 45-30 loss to Tulsa, he finished had the second-most tackles for UCF with nine, a season high.
Fellow redshirt senior team captain Joseph Puopolo attested to Niles’ dedication to the UCF program.
“He’s been a great player since he’s gotten here,” Puopolo said. “He’s just been one of those impact players on the defense, [making] big plays at big moments in the games.”
Niles isn’t alone, though.
In the Knights’ loss to Tulsa, senior walk-on defensive back Brendin Straubel made a significant impact. In his first legitimate playing time on defense, the special-teamer recorded three tackles and an interception, as well as forced a fumble on special teams. In two previous seasons, he recorded just six total tackles.
“He’s another one, a shorter player, but he plays hard,” Niles said. “He plays 100 percent, full speed every day, and when you do that, things happen like forced fumbles and picks.
“He knows what he’s supposed to do … and when he got his time in the game, he took advantage of it.”
Interim head coach Danny Barrett was satisfied with Straubel’s play, as well.
“He’s been a leader on special teams for us, and … he’s prepared to play and he knows that,” Barrett said. “But more importantly he understands his role on the team. He’s a quiet leader. The guys in the locker room, they like when they see Brendin Straubel on the field making plays because he’s that type of guy that ignited our team in Tulsa.”
The defense also saw a significant contribution from senior linebacker Domenic Spencer. Spencer, who leads the team with 84 total tackles this season, notched a career-high 20 tackles against Tulsa.
“Dom knows what he’s supposed to do,” Niles said. “He plays hard, plays full speed, and when you have an opportunity to make a play, you just do it.”
While there may have been some individual accomplishments, individual efforts can only take the team so far.
The Knights are 98th in passing yards allowed with 253.2 yards per game, 97th in rushing yards allowed with 196 yards per game and 112th in scoring defense, allowing 36.4 points per game. Compared to their defensive totals against Tulsa, UCF only fared better in passing defense, where it allowed only 150 yards.
Victor Ng is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @_victorT24.