Dec. 16, 2009
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -
By John Denton
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As if the emotions of this week weren't already tugging at Cory Hogue enough, a knowing glance with defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable a day ago hit the UCF middle linebacker especially hard.
Hogue, a fifth-year senior, is one of the Knights' unquestioned leaders, especially this week with him about to compete in his third bowl. But while he considers it one of the most important games of his college career, he's also torn because it will be his last game.
Hogue, who was granted a medical hardship to play his senior season, has taken plenty of grief from teammates about being ``an eighth-year senior.'' But he and Huxtable have been together throughout the five years, and UCF's defensive coordinator acknowledged this week that he's going to miss a player he almost considers a fellow coach.
``I kind of kidded with Cory today on the bus that we've been doing this thing for a long time together and this is our last rodeo,'' Huxtable said. ``I'll hate to see him go, but he's accomplished a lot of things in his career here and I'm really proud of him.''
Hogue was the anchor on UCF's stellar defense this season, and he will buoy the Knights' hopes of getting the school's first-ever bowl win on Saturday night against Rutgers in the St. Petersburg Bowl presented by Beef `O'Brady's. Hogue, a first-team All-Conference USA pick this season, led the Knights in tackles (99) and he was second in tackles for loss (11.5).
Playing well in this bowl, Hogue said, means everything to him.
``I definitely take every day for what it's worth. I want to go out there for this last game, play my hardest and leave everything that I have on the field,'' Hogue said. ``It'll be my last game as a Knight and it will be my third bowl game and we haven't won one yet, so it will be really big to me to win one.''
Hogue's importance to UCF's defense goes well beyond his ability to fill holes against the run and cover tight ends in the pass game. Because he's been around for five years, Huxtable jokes that Hogue actually knows the defense better than him.
Hogue said when he came to UCF from Naples five years ago, he was ``really, really lost.'' But now he said it's ``like second nature,'' to help out teammates when there are questions about coverages or schemes in the middle of games. And Huxtable said he's fortunate to have a player as intelligent as Hogue calling all the checks and acting as a traffic cop at middle linebacker.
``I'm so fortunate to have been around Cory these five, six, seven years, however long he's been here,'' Huxtable joked. ``He's such a tremendous kid and a good football player. My job is easier because he's like having a coach on the field. He's such a smart player, he understands the defense so well and he understands what the offense is trying to do. He makes all the calls and all of the checks, and I'm lucky as a coordinator to have someone like him on the field.''
Hogue is trying to use his experience of having played in the 2005 Hawaii Bowl and the 2007 Liberty Bowl to help other UCF players prepare for Saturday's game against Rutgers (8-4). And he said he's determined to end his college career on a high note, pouring all his focus into figuring out Rutgers' offensive schemes.
``There's a real sense of urgency with guys, especially with the defense,'' he said. ``In that last (regular-season) game against UAB we didn't have the performance that we wanted and it sort of left a bad taste in our mouths. We have a big challenge against Rutgers and we want to go out there and play a lot better. I really think we'll be able to carry over from the season what we got done the last few weeks.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.