March 16, 2010
By John Denton
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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - No one in the UCF football program took the loss to Rutgers in the St. Petersburg Bowl harder than offensive line coach Brent Key.
And the frustration of that moment has stayed with him and his offensive line for the past 10 weeks. Finally, on Friday, when UCF's highly anticipated spring practice starts, Key and his linemen can begin the process of eliminating the bad taste of the bowl loss from their mouths.
``You are only as good as your last game, and as an offensive line we didn't perform up to our expectations in that last game,'' Key said with a steely look in his eyes. ``We made a vow to ourselves and to the rest of the team that that won't happen again.''
UCF has the experience, talent and depth along the offensive line to not only make sure it doesn't happen again, but also to become a dominant offensive line next season. In 6-foot-7 tackles Jah Reid and Nick Pieschel, UCF has a pair of prototypical bookends both capable of being all-conference performers. The Knights are hoping to gain a fifth year of eligibility for senior guard Cliff McCray, while guards Theo Goins and Chad Hounshell and tackle Abre Leggins picked up valuable experience last season.
Key sees no reason why this shouldn't be among the best lines UCF has had in years.
``The goals I have set are for these guys to come out of every meeting smarter and off the practice field better than they went in. And then work to dominate their opponent,'' he said. ``We have the makings here of something really good here, but it's not going to come overnight.''
The big question mark, like it was last season, is the center position for the Knights. UCF went into last spring looking for a center and Ian Bustillo
ultimately started all 13 games and made most of the calls for the offensive line.
Redshirt junior Zach Norris and sophomore Jordan Rae are expected to battle for the starting slot. Both have worked hard in the weight room and in the film room to prepare themselves for the test ahead.
Perry Meiklejohn, a 6--fot-3, 306-pound freshman from Miami, enrolled in college early and has all the makings of a starter in the future. He's already been labeled as one to watch this spring.
``Zach has worked extremely hard and he's constantly in that film room learning and trying to make himself better,'' Key said. ``Jordan Rae is a kid we moved over from defense. He's tough, athletic and smart.
``And Perry Meiklejohn graduated from high school early and he's a puppy and at times he'll be swimming, but he's got a bright, bright future. He's athletic and he's built like you want a center to be built.''
The unquestioned star of the line is Reid, the 6-foot-7, 325-pound right tackle from Haines City. He was arguably the most improved player on the team last season, emerging as a first-team All-Conference USA performer. With NFL size and strength, Reid needs to be more physical and nasty this season to reach his maximum potential.
``I expect Jah Reid to be a dominant player. It's time,'' Key said. ``I've spoken to Jah at length several times and he knows now that it's his time. He made a lot of strides last year and now it's time for him to be that dominant player. He's played more than anybody else and I expect great, great things out of him.''
Key said the focus this spring will be competition and developing a line that's more much physical at the point of attack. He wants a group that hungry to dominate the opponent and strive for greatness.
After all, not far from his mind is the St. Pete Bowl performance when UCF ran for just 35 yards on 30 carries and UCF's quarterbacks were sacked six times. The end result was an ugly 45-24 defeat that Key and the offensive linemen haven't forgotten.
``I don't think we were as mentally sharp as we were in prior games and I blame that one on everyone - myself, I take full responsibility for that,'' Key said. ``Mentally, the things that we had practiced, we didn't go and execute. And we got our butts kicked up front. I know that, the entire staff knows that and the players know that. They've used that as motivation this offseason.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.