Feb. 2, 2011
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - A year ago, UCF's recruiting class - one headlined by standout quarterback Jeff Godfrey - was hailed as the best in school history. Now fast forward to Wednesday, and UCF's latest and greatest haul - one decorated with several star-studded players - has the potential to be even better.
Capitalizing on an 11-win season that featured a Conference USA title and a victory against Georgia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, UCF signed a deep and talented class of 27 athletes on Wednesday's National Signing Day. At the forefront of that class is the defensive muscle of ends Toby Jackson and Cam Henderson, considered to be two of the best prospects at their position.
And the Knights might not be done with weather delaying some of the hopeful signings to later. As of Wednesday afternoon, UCF was ranked second in C-USA and 48th nationally in recruiting by Rivals.com. Marshall was initially first, but the Knights could very well jump to first when their recruiting class is fully complete.
``From what we've attained we've helped our needs with specific positions that we went after. I'm very pleased with the work that the assistant coaches did and, no question, we've helped ourselves,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said.
Landing Jackson, who is already enrolled in school and preparing for spring practice, helped the Knight also ink standout defensive end Cam Henderson and Jackson's younger brother, defensive back Kentorius Jackson. Jackson, a JUCO transfer from Navarro (Texas) College, is rated as a four-star prospect by Rivals.com and is the No. 12 overall prospect on Rivals.com 2011 Junior College Top 50. He chose UCF over scholarship offers from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech, North Carolina, Southern Miss and USF.
``The program here is really on the rise and is getting bigger and bigger every year,'' said Jackson, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive end. ``I think this can be our year. At some point I see us going undefeated and getting to a BCS game.''
O'Leary said that the exposure the Knights received this season while making several appearances on national television on ESPN and CBS College Sports greatly helped to spread the message that UCF is a program on the rise nationally. UCF experienced several firsts this season, getting ranked for the first time in school history, winning five times on the road and defeat Georgia for the school's first-ever bowl victory. The Knights finished No. 20 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and 21st in the Associated Press poll.
``I think the exposure helped tremendously. Sometimes you don't like to play those odd-night games on Wednesday and Friday night, but that really helped us throughout the country because we were the only game on and we got great exposure,'' O'Leary said. ``What's happening is our (on-campus) stadium is kicking in. Kids are coming to the games, making it an unofficial visit and they are having an exciting time when they see the fans and what's taking place here.''
Here's the position-by-position breakdown of the 27 commitments so far: seven defensive linemen, six linebackers, six defensive backs, four wide receivers, two tight ends, one offensive lineman and one running back.
A primary focus in recruiting was filling several of the holes created by graduation. UCF lost defensive ends Bruce Miller and David Williams, lost three starting linebacker, safety Reggie Weams and cornerback Justin Boddie off a squad that allowed only one touchdown over the final eight quarters (C-USA title game and Liberty Bowl) of the season.
``We've always been short on the semi-skilled guys, those mid-sized guys at tight end and linebacker, so we needed to bring people in to get us more depth there and on special teams,'' O'Leary said. ``We need those dual role guys who can help us offensively and defensively. I think we've done a good job with that.''
The Knights already have six commitments enrolled in school, and that group is hoping to have the same impact as Godfrey, who became the starting quarterback by midseason and was ultimately named C-USA's Freshman of the Year. He has become somewhat of a cult hero on UCF's campus after taking the Knights to great heights in his first collegiate season.
A familiar name to Knights fans will be Jose Jose, who joins the Knights after signing with the program in 2010, but spent the past season playing for East Arizona College. O'Leary said that the 6-foot-3, 330-pound Jose has cleared up his off-the-field issues and could make an impact right away at defensive tackle.
``He's a very mature kid. He's very light on his feet for a big kid who will probably play at 350 pounds. He's a kid who can hold his point inside and make linebacking play much easier,'' O'Leary said. ``He went to Junior College and took care of his business and really wanted to be here. I did my homework with him and I'm really pleased to get him back.''
Offensively, the Knights received a key signing in highly acclaimed center Tarik Cook, a 6-foot-3, 294-pounder from Stone Mountain, Ga. And at wide receiver, the Knights landed speedster Rannell Hall out of Miami and Breshad Perriman, son of former University of Miami great Brett Perriman.
O'Leary said the Knights won several recruiting battles against BCS-affiliated schools, proving that UCF is a national power on the rise. UCF is the nation's second-largest school with 57,000 students and the football program was more in the forefront nationally this season than ever before.
``We're banging on a lot of the same doors as those schools,'' O'Leary said. ``With our facilities, when the kids come to visit us there's a wow factor and they're really impressed with what's going on here. We're outgrowing that reputation of being a commuter school.
``But it's UCF time now and that's the message that I'm pushing out there in recruiting,'' O'Leary continued.
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John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.