Nov. 25, 2010
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - As wide receiver Jamar Newsome has made the transition from track star to football star for the UCF Knights, the whispers about his enormous potential have morphed into a unanimous roar.
Quite possibly, no Knight has more big-play ability and pro potential than the speedy, 6-foot-2, 202-pound Newsome. The only shocking thing now as Newsome regularly breaks tackles and has become UCF's best receiver is that it's taken until his senior season for him to fully blossom.
``I've been telling people for two years that Jamar Newsome was extremely talented, but he's just now getting opportunities. What he's doing now, he's been doing for two years (in practice),'' UCF assistant head coach David Kelly said. ``But he's getting (game) opportunities now, and it's nothing new to us. People are able to see the result of everything he has.
``He has size, he has power and he's explosive and very strong hands,'' Kelly continued. ``He's a very intelligent kid who already has his degree. So the Jamar everybody is seeing now, we in the receiver family have seen it the past two years.''
The Newsome that everyone is seeing now is a rangy, powerful receiver who is second on UCF in receptions (27) and receiving yards (449) and his 16.6-yard average is tied for first. A dazzling 44-yard reception earlier this season caught the eye of ESPN where Newsome made the top 10 plays of the night. And NFL scouts attending UCF's practices and games have started to notice that Newsome's potential as a wide receiver is just starting to bloom.
While Newsome stressed that his focus is on helping UCF (8-3) beat Memphis (1-10) on Saturday and advance to the Dec. 4 Conference USA title game, Newsome admitted that he dreams of someday possibly playing football at the highest level.
``I've always want to play in the NFL, and I just practice so hard,'' said Newsome, a St. Petersburg native. ``Sometimes in practice you don't feel like you want to do it, but I just try to work really hard. I try not to focus so much on the end result and instead focus on the now. With faith and what I'm doing, hopefully someone will look at me.''
All eyes are on Newsome now that he's learned to harness his speed from that of a track specialist to one now skilled at running pass routes. With 4.4-second speed, he is considered the second-fastest player on UCF's team behind kick returner Quincy McDuffie. He was a two-year letterman in track in high school and in addition to running sprints he finished third in the state in the long jump and the triple jump.
But as he soon found out, running track and running pass routes were dramatically different. Newsome redshirted his freshman year, didn't play at all as a freshman and caught just four passes as a sophomore. His primary responsibilities last season were as a kick returner, but this season he's finally evolved into the big-play threat at receiver that the Knights had hoped for.
``It was a big transition for me. With track you can pretty much run full speed the whole time, but with routes it's a lot different,'' he said. ``I had to learn how to channel my speed, kick it in and kick it out. I think from repetition, doing it over and over, helped me learn how to do it right.''
UCF head coach George O'Leary calls Newsome ``one of the harder workers among the receivers,'' and he said that his commitment over the summer and in additional drills before and after practice have helped him evolve into an elite receiver.
``I'm so happy for Jamar. He not only makes the catch, but it's the run after the catch with him. He's doing a lot of good things after the catch,'' O'Leary said. ``He was a track guy and has track speed, but putting that speed under a uniform is different deal. He finally is running with the uniform at track speed. And his passion for football has really grown.''
Newsome had 123 yards receiving against Houston and another 100 yards against Southern Miss, much of coming after he caught a short pass and broke it for a long gainer by breaking tackles. He credited his fellow wide receivers for blocking for him, but much of it is just his rare combination of power and speed that allows him to leave defensive backs behind. His only regret this season is that he's been dropped inside the 5-yard line on long gainers three times this season.
``It's a mindset with me because I feel like one person can't bring me down,'' Newsome said. It's been happening a lot to me where I break so many tackles, but then I can't get there to the end zone. I want touchdowns, but I'm not a selfish guy. As long as we the touchdown -- if (tailback) Ronnie (Weaver) gets it, that's fine with me.''
While most are surprised by Newsome's growth this season, fellow wide out Brian Watters said it was just a matter of time before his teammate became a star. Watters, UCF's leading receiver with 33 catches and 478 yards, is Newsome's closest friend on the team.
``He's an extremely fast and gifted guy and being that he's my roommate I feel like I know him better than anybody out here,'' Watters said. ``I think over the years he's learned about controlling his speed. It's not about how fast you can run in a straight line. He's just done a great job of adjusting to his speed and run great routes. ... I knew it was coming sooner or later for him because he's one of the best athletes on this team. He has that God-given talent to make guys miss, and I'm just really proud that's he's getting his time to shine.''
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John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.