Feb. 1, 2010
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -
By Leigh Torbin
UCF was one of only six schools in the nation with two alumni starters in Sunday night's AFC-NFC Pro Bowl at Sun Life Stadium and neither disappointed as Denver WR Brandon Marshall caught a touchdown pass and Philadelphia CB Asante Samuel made an interception and had three pass defenses.
Marshall and Samuel were seldom lined up on each other during the NFL's annual showcase event that the AFC won 41-34. Marshall became the first UCF alumnus to score a touchdown in a Pro Bowl game when he caught a pass from Houston's Matt Schaub and fought his way across the goal line for a 23-yard touchdown at the 6:59 mark of the first quarter. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper threw a touchdown pass in the Pro Bowl but no Knight had ever crossed the goal line himself until yesterday.
Samuel spent most of the night matched up in man coverage against the ever-flamboyant Chad Ochocinco of the Cincinnati Bengals and did well when the two were paired together. Samuel nearly intercepted a pass intended for Ochocinco that had pick-six potential when he jumped on a route in AFC territory late in the first quarter and nearly snared a pass from Tennessee's Vince Young. It was the first of three pass defenses on the night for the former Knight.
The Samuel-Ochocinco matchup came to a head at the start of the fourth quarter with the AFC leading 34-31 and threatening to take a 10-point lead. On the first play of the quarter, Young lofted a pass from the NFC 41 into the right corner of the end zone where Samuel got in Ochocinco's line of vision and, although he didn't tip the ball, was able to sufficiently distract Ochocinco into not catching it.
Two plays later, Young looked across the middle of the field for Ochocinco only to have the pass broken up by Samuel. On the following play, Young again targeted Ochocinco but this time Samuel came away with an interception at the NFC four yard line, returning it 35 yards. Not only did that play stop the AFC, but the NFC turned its possession into a field goal by Samuel's Eagles teammate David Akers that knotted the score at 34-34 with 11:43 left to play. Samuel's interception as the NFC's only one of the game. Samuel also accounted for three of his team's five pass defenses on the night.
Samuel, who tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions in 2009, was very excited about his performance afterwards.
"That felt good because he's always trying to talk junk to me," he said about shutting down Ochocinco. "The other day at practice he was calling me out. But I own him every time I play him."
Two Super Bowls and three Pro Bowls into a stellar NFL career, Samuel also talked about how UCF helped get him to where he is today.
"I had good coaches," he said remembering his time in Orlando. "Gene Chizik taught me a lot. I came from high school only playing one year of DB. All my life I was a quarterback and I played some safety. Gene Chizik taught me a lot of good technique and fundamentals that are still with me today."
It may be hard to believe that the freshman safety from Lake Howell High School during Samuel's senior year at UCF would go one to become one of five players in NFL history with three consecutive 100-receptions seasons but Brandon Marshall has done just that.
Marshall was very brief with the media following the game but did express how excited he was about his Pro Bowl touchdown.
"Yes that was my first touchdown catch because last year I dropped Peyton Manning's touchdown and he gave me a hard stare," Marshall said. "It feels good to get my first touchdown. My aunt is here, she's probably my biggest fan and every time I score a touchdown she asks for the ball and I'm going to get that ball to her."
Although Marshall only spoke about the actual game on Sunday night, after Saturday's AFC team practice Marshall told The Sanford Herald how nice it is to see all that has transpired at his alma mater.
"It's awesome to be able to go back on campus and see, not just the football program and the athletic department growing, but the school as a whole," Marshall said.
Asked about UCF gaining acclaim and national recognition, he added "we have a lot of work to do but we're on the right track."
Thanks to Marshall and Samuel, UCF joined Miami, California, Texas, NC State and Kent State as the only schools to produces at least two members of Sunday night's starting lineups. Overall, the Knights had 15 alumni active in the NFL this past season, the most in Conference USA and more than many other prominent schools nationwide.
There is no way to know who the next Knights in the Pro Bowl will be, but Wednesday is the day to find out who the next Knights are overall as it is National Signing Day. With the first updates anywhere and live blogging by John Denton's Knights Insider, UCFAthletics.com and the @UCF_FootballSID Twitter account will be the best place to follow all of the developments as NLIs roll in on Wednesday morning.