Pep rally fires fans, Knights up over Fiesta Bowl
Editor's note: This story was originally published in Jan. 2014.
UCF students and alumni feverishly packed the CFE Arena Wednesday night to celebrate the Knights' 52-42 Fiesta Bowl victory over No. 6 Baylor.
The pep rally began at 7 p.m. with free admission. Attendees could park for free in Garages F, D and H.
Crowds of students, season-ticket holders and alumni entered through the doors and lined up for free promotional items. Coca-Cola bottles and Chick-fil-A reward cards were handed out to attendees. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl championship merchandise was even sold to the crowd. UCF season-ticket holders and Fiesta Bowl ticket buyers lined up for their bowl poster and 2013 commemorative season tickets before and after the rally.
Season-ticket holders Greg and Michelle Klima, UCF class of '84 alumni, were two of many who lined up. The couple sat at the 50-yard line during the Fiesta Bowl and came to see off the potential NFL draft picks.
"It was an awesome year. We're here to congratulate the guys on a job well done," Greg Klima said. "I'm going to miss [Blake] Bortles but I don't blame him for going. He fulfilled all his dreams in college. He got us to a BCS championship."
Students such as Haley Long, a junior nursing student and Jenny Valdes, a senior film student, could not make it to the Fiesta Bowl championship but felt the need to support the Knights at home.
"We didn't see them in Phoenix and school spirit is exciting. We have friends here. We'll stay here until it ends," Valdes said.
During the rally, the Marching Knights and UCF Spirit Squad were in attendance, rousing the fans in chanting "U-C-F Knights" before coach George O'Leary was introduced by Marc Daniels, voice of the UCF Knights.
O'Leary took to the podium and welcomed the football team. The audience stood applauding as each position of the team was introduced by O'Leary.
The coach asked students and ticket holders to keep supporting the Knights by purchasing 2014 season football tickets, coming to the National Signing Day Celebration and the spring practice.
The National Signing Day Celebration will take place Feb. 5 at 5:30 p.m. at the recruiting lounge. The spring practice will be held March 12 at 10 a.m. Both events are open to the public.
O'Leary reminded fans that a parade will be held for the Knights at Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Jan. 12 and will begin at 2 p.m.
The coach, however, was keen on reminding fans of the future season.
"You know what you can do, sell out the spring game," O'Leary said. "The spring game is April 12th at 2:00. Sell it out. Let's fill the stadium. You want to show your appreciation to this football team, that's a great day to do it because that gets you to next season... Your support is critical if we're going to be successful."
O'Leary told the audience that all but seven seniors were returning for the 2014 season. Both quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson — who have decided to head for the NFL — will not be returning and were singled out for a standing ovation.
UCF President John C. Hitt and athletic director Todd Stansbury also spoke during the rally. Stansbury congratulated the team, advising them to "savor the moment."
During the speech, the Associated Press Top 10 poll appeared on the "jumbotron." UCF held the No. 10 spot.
"The bar has risen," Stansbury said. "We need you in those seats…band and cheer. When you look at those names on that list, look at the neighborhood we're playing in."
At the end of the pep rally, a season-highlight reel was shown to the fans.
Alumnus James Bohnsack, class of '08, said watching the highlights video was his favorite part of the pep rally.
"I'm someone who has been a UCF fan for about 10 years, it's just been awesome watching something improve from barely anything to something amazing everyone's proud of. It was like a Lord of the Rings movie."
After the pep rally, the first 1,000 guests who showed up before the event were given the opportunity to take a photo with the Fiesta Bowl Trophy.
Students and alumni showed up before 6 p.m. for a chance to pose with the trophy. Alumna Mariel Padilla, class of '05, arrived at 5:30 p.m. to receive the winning ticket.
"I think it's great. [The pep rally] gives us a chance to come back and root for our team. Because when we were here, our games were in the Citrus bowl. I'm really proud," Padilla said.
"It's a pivotal moment for the school, for the team. To see this much support, even two years ago, this place would have not be filled," said alumna Amy Lynch. "It's finally our time. Let's show them how it's done."