ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - College choices were limited. Scholarship offers did not exist. The passion for the game grew on a daily basis. All he wanted was just the opportunity to study a fun subject, and of course play football. UCF provided that opportunity.
A small lineman at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Fla., Jordan Rae started considering UCF late in his senior year because it would allow him to major in aerospace engineering while competing for a spot on the football team. His family toured UCF, and one of the big selling points was how much they enjoyed the stunning campus, as well as the fact Rae would only be a couple hours away from home.
"They really liked the school," Rae said. "We came up here a couple of times to visit the campus and hear about the aerospace engineering program. My parents loved it from the time we got here. If anything happened they would be right there. Family means the world to me."
Because all of the scholarship offers to recruits were already sent out, the coaching staff agreed to give Rae a preferred walk-on spot. And that was all Rae could ask for to begin his collegiate career. If he wanted to put on the UCF helmet and to contribute on gamedays, he still had some work to do.
One quote he picked up before enrolling with UCF stuck in his mind: "You know you're going to be a walk-on, but don't act like one." Relegated to the scout team during practices, he knew if he continued to fight every day, it would ultimately pay off in monumental ways.
"It starts with the scout team, and it's for the better of the team overall," Rae acknowledged. "I remember my freshman year, I went in on the scout team and won Scout Player of the Week four times. After doing that, Coach (George) O'Leary put me on the travel roster. I still had to practice with the scout team, but I was able to travel, and the experience was amazing."
Two seasons went by and Rae's debut at Bright House Networks Stadium had not yet occurred. What else could he do to get on the field on Saturdays? Thankfully for Rae, his relationship with his family helped him persevere. His mother, Dayle, constantly provided words of encouragement throughout the long, tiring workout days in 2008 and 2009.
"We always told him to dig deep, do his best, aim high and earn all of the respect you can, because it will come to you," Dayle Rae said. "We would always push him and urge him on, and tell him that hard work pays off. Coaches were really starting to notice him."
Finally in the spring of 2010, his career changed forever when he volunteered to move to the offensive line, where the Knights were lacking depth.
With football overtaking his lifestyle, Rae eventually studied finance instead. As his path to graduation was properly lining up, so was his snapping ability. Rae quickly became the Knights' starting center as a redshirt sophomore in 2010.
"There are not a lot of places where you can walk on and earn yourself a scholarship," Rae said. "But there are a lot of guys who have done it here at UCF. To me, that means that you have the greatest opportunity right here to get school paid for, and play the sport that you love."
With a scholarship in hand, Rae helped pave the way for UCF to have its best season in program history when the Knights went 11-3 and claimed the Conference USA and AutoZone Liberty Bowl titles. By the time he turned into a junior in 2011, Rae already began serving as a leader and one of the most respected players on the offense. That came as no surprise to his parents.
"He got along very well with his teachers and his coaches in high school," Dayle Rae said. "He has always been a leader, which is what his dad taught him to do, and that is don't be a follower, be a leader. It really stuck with him. We are very, very proud of him. He has two younger brothers who play football too, and they both look up to him. He earned his scholarship, it didn't fall into his lap, he had to make his name and show that what he's doing on the field is for the benefit of the whole team, not just himself."
Now standing at 6-foot-2 and 275 pounds, Rae demonstrates pride knowing he is one of 11 Knights who already have their bachelor's degrees. Rae now has 28 career starts, including starting the previous 20-straight games from 2010-11. Looking back on his time with UCF, he admits he went through a difficult period.
"It was a lot of hard work, especially that first year, and it got so hard," Rae admitted. "And you would start thinking, `I don't want to do this, but I love the game.' But just never give up, because you can accomplish what you want and what you set out for. So far, I've done what I wanted to. I've won a conference championship, hopefully another this year, and it's been an honor to play here at UCF."
When the opportunity came his way, Rae took full advantage. He indeed did not give up. Instead, he tore through his heavy barriers and rapidly climbed toward the pinnacle of what UCF is about: Earning his degree and preparing for a very promising future.
This story appears in the September issue of Knights Insider magazine. The publication, which is published six times per year, provides an inside look at UCF student-athletes, coaches and alums. To order the magazine, click here.