Oct. 23, 2010
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFathletics.com) - As the crowd inside Bright House Networks Stadium stood and roared their approval, Daunte Culpepper raised his right arm and spun around to look at the dazzling on-campus surroundings. The smile on his face was a product of knowing that he indirectly had something to do with it all.
The most famous player in UCF history returned to the stadium that he figuratively laid the foundation for on Saturday to have his No. 8 jersey commemorated in a halftime ceremony. Culpepper was joined by former All-American tailback Kevin Smith (No. 24), dynamic cornerback/kick returner Joe Burnett (No. 19) and the family of benefactor Wayne Densch (No. 1).
Culpepper, UCF's first-ever All-American, was touched that he was greeted with a standing ovation. He was blown away by the beauty of UCF's on-campus stadium and predicted that the Knights are well on their way to becoming an elite program.
``I tell you what all of the blood, sweat and tears put into it and to see the product of it now is great. I'm not the only guy who put in the work, but I give respect to them because without them I couldn't do what I've done. It's just great to see UCF where they are now,'' Culpepper said. ``(The ovation) definitely raised the hair on your arms when you can face the crowd and the people in Central Florida have always supported myself and the team. Having my jersey (honored), it's a great thing and I feel very honored.''
Smith, who ran for 2,567 yards in 2007 to become an All-American, longed for his days as a Knight upon his return to campus. Smith, a third-year back with the Detroit Lions, is attempting to make a return this season from a knee injury. Smith said the advice that he gets from UCF coach George O'Leary and former teammates at UCF has helped him get through the rough times.
``Coach (O'Leary) has given me great advice when I'm back here in the summer working out with the fellas. This is like my second home. I can call anybody here for advice and I know that I have a lot of supporters in Orlando,'' Smith said. ``Being back here feels so good. I left early (for the NFL), making a business decision. But I loved being here and I wish I could go through all of this twice.''
Burnett, UCF's first-ever FBS All-American, couldn't stop smiling several minutes after seeing his No. 19 hung near the goal line where he returned a kickoff for a touchdown in UCF's first-ever Conference USA title. Burnett admitted that the moment was like a dream come true, knowing he will forever be included among the program's greatest players.
``That's a big accomplishment. It really hasn't even hit me yet, but I just keep thinking what a big accomplishment,'' he said. ``My heart was beating a little faster than normal and I'm all smiles right now.''
Culpepper said that he got a chance to talk with UCF freshman phenom quarterback Jeff Godfrey before the game and the two made plans to spend the summer working out together. Not only did Culpepper say that he was fine with Godfrey potentially breaking all of his rushing and passing records for a quarterback, he thinks the Miami product can finally be the player that helps UCF reach its enormous potential.
``I'm OK with (Godfrey breaking records) and I hope that he does. Records are made to be broken and if he's doing what he's supposed to do he'll break them. I wish him the best,'' said Culpepper, who set more than 30 school records during his time at UCF. ``I told (Godfrey) to keep working. I think he's a great specimen and he's going to open a lot of eyes around here. He's definitely the type of guy who could get other big recruits here and help build the program. He's that type of player.''
John Denton writes for UCFathletics.com. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.