Knights’ football players are one step closer to being beneath the bright lights of Bright House Networks Stadium while thousands of fans cheer and chant “U-C-F.”
“When it gets closer and closer like this, you just start playing the game in your head over and over again, making plays in your head,” quarterback Justin Holman said. “You get a little bit of butterfly feeling.”
The first game of the season will be just that: a first game for a few, but a last first game for others.
“After this year, I’m never going to be able to put a UCF helmet on again. I want to go out the best way I can,” said Joey Grant, a graduate offensive lineman in his fifth year with the Knights. “We can’t have any off days, we can’t come out on the practice field not ready to work [and] we can’t afford it.”
Before the Knights take the field against FIU on Thursday, Sept. 3 at 6 p.m., they can’t forget about the hard work that was put in during training camp. Camp encompassed long days sweating in the hot Florida heat and early morning meetings to memorize head coach George O’Leary’s playbook.
“You’re tired and you’re going to day 12 [or] day 13, and it starts to get a little harder,” defensive back Shaquill Griffin said. “Practice can get hard, it can get tough and at times it does get sticky.
“[Coach] is looking for someone to step up and get everybody to push through the sticky moments.”
Offensive lineman Tarik Cook, who has been talked up as a leader by fellow linemen Grant and Chavis Dickey during the Knights’ training camp, sees those sticky moments, but never saw the team remain stuck.
“If we did have a down beginning of practice, we finished at the end really strong,” Cook said. “The intensity was really good during training camp.”
During the 18-day camp, the team began its day early in the morning, gathering for breakfast before filing into the meeting room with coaches to go over the playbook or practice film. Next up was the weight room or a walk-through, which consists of an explanation or demonstration of a play or a player’s role on the field. From there, the team took a break before getting taped up and strapping on the pads for practice. After a two-hour on-field session followed by dinner and more meetings, it was lights out at 10:30 p.m.
Griffin said one of the toughest things for newcomers was getting enough sleep at night. And to compete at the collegiate level, sleeping may be a means of being ready.
“If one goes down, you’ve got to be the next one up,” he said. “You can’t harp on being behind somebody because the day they go down, you have to be ready and you have no choice but to come in and play.”
Griffin knows that feeling all too well.
After a teammate went down late in the fourth quarter against Houston on Nov. 9, 2013, the true freshman had to step up on a goal-line drive to help hold the Knights lead, 19-14.
“I didn’t know I was going to play, but I had to step up because another player in front of me went down,” he said. “I found myself praying, just like telling [myself] to make it through, do whatever I can.
“That was my turn, and that was my shot to show them that I can take up that role to help the team the best I can.”
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JarrodHeil or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.