Knights eager to play, pre­pare to face Ter­rap­ins

Orlando Sentinel - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Chris Hays

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.”

AILEEN PERILLA/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

UCF’s Jamiyus Pittman (9) and Tre Neal (25) are fired up to be prac­tic­ing again af­ter a lay­off for Hur­ri­cane Irma.

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