March 15, 2012
UCF Athletics Social Media Directory
By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - His best friend and teammate of the past three seasons, Josh Robinson, headed for the NFL Draft, UCF safety Kemal Ishmael knows there is more pressure and responsibility than ever on him as the unquestioned leader of the Knights' defense.
For the past three seasons, Ishmael and Robinson were fixtures in the UCF secondary and usually on the Conference USA postseason all-star teams. Both started as freshmen, thrived as sophomores on the UCF team that won the Liberty Bowl and went through last year's 5-7 finish.
Following the season, Robinson declared for the NFL Draft and subsequently wowed scouts and executives with his blazing speed. As for Ishmael, he rededicated himself in the weight room and is determined to do whatever he can to make sure he has a stellar season at UCF.
``I'm just focusing on trying to get the whole team better because we're only as good as our teammates,'' a reflective Ishmael said. ``Last season was a letdown. We were good at the beginning, but then we kind of went downhill at the end. But we're all talking about getting better and we have a chance to be real good this season. That's what we're focusing on.''
UCF went through its second spring workout in shorts and helmets on Thursday. On Saturday the team will don full pads for the first time and go through segmented scrimmaging. It all leads up to the Black and Gold Spring Game on April 14 at 2 p.m.
Ishmael has been really good for three seasons, leading the Knights in tackles each of the past two years. He had a team-high 81 total stops last season, while also breaking up three passes.
Ishmael admitted that it's a weird feeling this spring not playing alongside Robinson, his cohort the past three years. But even without Robinson at cornerback he feels the Knights can still have an elite secondary this season.
``I have to get past Josh no longer being here. I'm used to looking to the side of the field and seeing Josh over there making plays, but now we have A.J. (Bouye) back making plays,'' Ishmael said. ``It's time to move on.''
Heading into his senior year, Ishmael wants to be even better for the Knights in different ways next season. Driven by the disappointment from last season and the likely chance ahead to play in the NFL, Ishmael worked extra hard in the weight room to reshape his body. In an attempt to get faster and more athletic in the secondary, the Miami native dropped 14 pounds this offseason while going through some vigorous workouts.
Even Ishmael's slimming down this spring has a tinge of Robinson's flavor to it. After recording just three interceptions in his first three seasons at UCF, Ishmael hopes to become more active in pass coverage next season.
``I just want to get more agile and get more speed. I think I have the physical part as far as the tackling and forcing fumbles locked down. But (Coach George O'Leary) wants me to be more of a ball person, so I'm going to try to achieve that this season.
``I'm going to try to go for Josh's record his freshman year of six picks,'' Ishmael added with a laugh. ``I hope I can do that because it would help our team.''
Two workouts into the spring and already Ishmael said he can tell a major difference in being lighter on his feet.
``I lost a couple of pounds and I feel more agile now. I did 21 (reps of 225 pounds) on the bench press. Overall, I just got better,'' said Ishmael, now 195 pounds. ``It was crazy the work we did this offseason with the squats, bench, running. We did everything from jumping stairs to running the stadium steps to prepare us for this season.''
Ishmael said he's been very impressed with the leadership and energy of new defensive coordinator Jim Fleming, who took over following the 2011 season. In fact, the entire defensive coaching staff is new and Ishamel also mentioned the relationship he's already formed with new secondary coach Kirk Callahan.
Ishmael said the youth on UCF's defense will necessitate him being more of a leader on the unit this season. Never one shy about speaking up to his teammates, Ishmael said he'll have to be the leader in a secondary where he starred alongside of Robinson the past three seasons. He knows it's on him now to make sure the group bounces back from last season.
``On the defensive side I have a big role being a leader,'' he said. ``We have sophomores and freshmen playing linebacker and defensive back. I have to speak up and get everybody going instead of being so hard on them. Instead of cursing them out, I have to be a motivator. I'm trying to get everybody on the same page and build up the chemistry.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.