UCF plans Frosty re­cep­tion for FIU

Team ex­pects gains in coach’s sec­ond season

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - SPORTS - By Matt Murschel Staff Writer mmurschel@ or­lan­dosen­tinel.com

The 2015 UCF Knights were a bro­ken team.

The group suf­fered through a dis­heart­en­ing win­less cam­paign, with vet­eran coach Ge­orge O’Leary re­tir­ing mid­way through the worst season in the pro­gram’s his­tory. But sal­va­tion was on the way in the form of new coach Scott Frost.

Frost and his coach­ing staff would sift through the rub­ble from the pre­vi­ous season to be­gin build­ing the foun­da­tion for the 2016 team. UCF bounced back to win six games last season.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent coach and it was a dif­fer­ent team, one that you could con­sider bro­ken but coach Frost brought us back to­gether,” Shaquem Grif­fin said of the trans­for­ma­tion. “That’s a feel­ing any team would want. You want to be to­gether. I’m so grate­ful for it and I’m blessed to have coach Frost and our team­mates.”

As the Knights pre­pare to kick off Year 2 un­der Frost against FIU on Thurs­day night at Spec­trum Sta­dium on na­tional tele­vi­sion, the coaches and play­ers say this team is dif­fer­ent from the one that took the field a year ago against South Carolina State.

They play­ers re­mem­ber the win­less season, are grate­ful they clawed their way to six wins last year and are hun­gry for so much more this season.

“We know ev­ery­thing now, so now we don’t have to fo­cus on learn­ing a new thing,” sopho­more tail­back Ja­won Hamil­ton said. “Now, we can just go out there and play.”

Red­shirt ju­nior Jor­dan Akins, who led all tight ends with 347 yards on 23 re­cep­tions last season, senses a big dif­fer­ence be­tween the start of the 2016 and 2017 sea­sons.

“Last year, every­one was try­ing to get a feel for who could play and who couldn’t play,” he said. “This year, every­one’s in shape. Every­one’s ready to go. Every­one knows their as­sign­ments. Now it’s just about go­ing out and ex­e­cut­ing.”

Frost said this year’s team is much far­ther along than last year’s was at this time.

“The play­ers are more com­fort­able with schemes. I think they do a bet­ter job com­mu­ni­cat­ing, they un­der­stand what we want bet­ter. They were quicker to pick up the game plan this year be­cause of their un­der­stand­ing of what we want to get done on both sides of the foot­ball,” he said.

Frost also be­lieves this team has be­come a tightknit group, with much of the credit go­ing to the play­ers, who took it upon them­selves to spend the off­sea­son get­ting to know each other bet­ter.

“This year, we’re closer than we ever were,” Grif­fin said of the fam­ily at­mos­phere around the pro­gram. “We went bowl­ing, we hung out, we watched movies, we did ev­ery­thing to­gether.”

Hamil­ton be­lieves this off­sea­son helped deepen the bond among his team­mates.

“We did a lot of things on our own and Coach Frost didn’t have to ask,” Hamil­ton said. “We would call each other up or get to­gether as one big group and plan some­thing out and go make it hap­pen.”

That fa­mil­iar­ity not only with the play­book, but with each other, has led to a smoother pre­sea­son camp.

“Guys are mov­ing around. Guys are fly­ing around and do­ing their jobs cor­rectly and pay­ing at­ten­tion to the mi­nor de­tails and this time last year, we weren’t at that point. It’s a thing of beauty,” said quar­ter­back McKen­zie Milton, who will open the season as the Knights’ starter.

UCF se­nior de­fen­sive line­man Jamiyus Pittman said the changes are a re­lief.

“I feel like right now there’s no pres­sure,” Pittman said. “Ev­ery­body knows what they are do­ing and I feel like we’ve been ex­e­cut­ing through­out camp and I think it’s go­ing to show on Thurs­day.”

STEPHEN M. DOWELL/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

UCF head coach Scott Frost says this year’s team is much far­ther along than last year’s was at this time.

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