Knights eager to play, prepare to face Terrapins
Tre Neal said he feels like he’s going back through preseason camp all over again.
“When we go back to school on Monday, it’ll feel like the first day,” said the UCF safety, who along with his teammates had nearly an entire week off from practice and classes as Hurricane Irma threw a wrench into the college football season for all Florida colleges.
“It kinda felt like we were starting camp all over again just because we’ve been seeing each other all the time. We haven’t really been game-planning that much.
“School, that feels like forever ago. All my tests, quizzes and stuff, they’ve been pushed back and they’ve made a whole new syllabus for us.”
It’s been a strange couple of weeks around UCF since Hurricane Irma closed in on the Sunshine State.
Classes were canceled; football games postponed, canceled or rescheduled; and campus was ultimately closed as the National Guard took over the Nicholson Fieldhouse as a staging area for hurricane rescue and relief.
The UCF football team returned to practice Thursday and the Knights have been aching for a return to normal.
“We’re just kinda getting back into the motions, getting back into the routine,” Neal said. “Like knocking the rust off of a car, getting cranked up a little bit, getting moving a little bit. … We’ll get back fine.”
When we last left UCF, the Knights were pumped up and getting set to play their American Athletic Conference opener against league-title contender Memphis.
“I was upset,” Neal said. “I wanted to play them. That was our first test in the conference, a big game.”
Fortunately for the Knights, Maryland provides the next test and it shouldn’t take much to help this squad get motivated to play a Big Ten opponent.
“Those guys beat a good Texas team and they’re coming up, averaging a lot of points, so it’s a good challenge for us,” Neal said. “We had the train stop a little bit just because of the hurricane, but now we’re trying to build It back and keep that little train going that we had going from the first game of the season.”
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said he’s not concerned about this team regaining its focus and the momentum it had heading into the Memphis game.
“These guys are 18- to 22-year-old kids. They just want to play football. They don’t care who we play. … These guys just want to play somebody,” Chinander said. “These guys want to play 25 games if we’d let them.”
Chinander did say, however, that even though the team had nearly a week off, he was still able to learn a lot about this group as it bonded through volunteer efforts during the storm.
“I hear a lot of people talk about, you know, if you win a big game it’s a breakthrough. Sometimes in practice you have a breakthrough. Sometimes in a meeting setting you have a breakthrough,” Chinander said. “To me, the biggest breakthroughs come when we do the sandbags, when we go to the food banks. The team gets together and they understand that when we do things together, we can do anything.
“So to me, even though we didn’t get to play a game, which was very disappointing, I had an awesome experience with these guys throughout the storm and throughout the community service we did.”
And now they’ll get back to the task at hand — a date with the Terrapins in Landover, Md., Saturday at 3 p.m.
“We gotta get that mindset we had before we went into Memphis, which is where we want to be,” offensive lineman Wyatt Miller said. “It feels like we’ve had two bye weeks … but we’re ready to get back on the field and get back in front of Knight Nation and show them where we are.”
UCF’s Jamiyus Pittman (9) and Tre Neal (25) are fired up to be practicing again after a layoff for Hurricane Irma.