Kemal Ishmael's game-ending interception against Southern Miss has gone down as one of the top moments of the 2012 season so far. The clutch play didn't just prove how valuable the Miami native is to the Knights, but UCF head coach George O'Leary spoke highly of how important the talented defensive back is to UCF during his weekly press conference Tuesday.
"I think he's a great competitor," O'Leary said. "When you look at a guy and you talk about winners, everybody wants to win but there aren't many that work to win. He works to win every day in practice."
Ishmael is currently second on the team in tackles with 49 halfway through the regular season. His talent and leadership is one of the many reasons the Knights are ranked toward the top of every major defensive category in Conference USA.
"He's contagious out there and he's well respected, not because he talks a lot, because of what he does," O'Leary said. "He's always where he belongs. He understands his responsibilities. You never see him shrugging off any duties as far as special teams, defense or whatever it may be."
O'Leary says Ishmael's effort stays constant throughout the entire week and that's why he's had a successful football career at UCF.
"You can take practice and make it game-day for him," O'Leary continued. "Others it's not the case, but he plays in practices the same way. I think that's what separates him from a lot of players. They're going to play alright on Saturday, but they'd play a lot better if they practiced like him during the week."
The Miami native is ranked in the top 10 in school history with 293 tackles. By the end of the season, he has the potential to be ranked in the Top 5, if he continues to put up the type of numbers he has this season.
O'Leary says Ishmael's work ethic and dedication is what has made him one of the best defensive players in UCF history.
"That's something you hope the young players can carry over in a contagious type of way," O'Leary said. "He's what you want your football team to look like on the defensive side of the ball. He can do a lot of things for you and he's a quick study."
For as much success as the 5-foot-11 safety has had on the field, he has been just as good a role model off the field.
"I have nothing but great praise for the way he handles himself off the field, on the field and pretty much within the whole program," O'Leary said. "He's been a pleasure to be around and I know he is one of the most respected kids on the team."