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'New' UCF full of confidence

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August 07, 2006

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'New' UCF full of confidence

By SHAWN A. AKERS

Correspondent

ORLANDO -- There is no more quiet optimism in the UCF football camp.

That has been replaced by solid confidence, something that hasn't been seen around these parts in August for a couple of years.

Winning eight games, advancing to the conference championship game in just one season and earning the school's first bowl berth can do that for a program. After a 0-11 campaign in coach George O'Leary's first year here in 2004, the Knights are coming off an 8-5 season that culminated in a spirited loss to Nevada in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

"Last year at this time, I don't know that anyone knew just what was in store for us," senior defensive lineman Chris Welsh said. "We knew we were going to be better, but just how much better was a bit of a gray area.

"I think we had a lot of guys step up and really play their guts out. We took it one game at a time, and, when we won our first game, it was like the floodgates just opened."

"This year is a lot different for us because we don't have a losing streak hanging over our heads coming into the season," senior quarterback Stephen Moffett said. "We figured out how to win, and we discovered that we're good enough to compete for a conference championship. That's the biggest thing for us. We don't have to wonder about those things anymore. We've been there, done that."

But that doesn't mean O'Leary, who signed a 10-year contract extension with UCF during the offseason, will allow his players to get overconfident. One good season, he said, doesn't make a dynasty.

"Last year is over with. It is gone," O'Leary said. "We have a new season, and whatever happened last year is over. It is a new football team with new personalities and new chemistry."

Indeed. The Knights will sorely miss the likes of graduated defensive end Paul Carrington, placekicker Matt Prater, wide receiver Brandon Marshall, defensive end Frisner Nelson and tight end Darcy Johnson.

But, plenty of veterans -- including Welsh, Moffett and sophomore All-American cornerback Joe Burnett -- return in 2006, enough to make UCF a solid favorite to once again win Conference USA's East Division.

"We've got the weapons to make things happen, on both sides of the ball," Moffett said. "We've just got to stay focused on what the task is. We can't be complacent. I know coach O'Leary won't let that happen with us. We're still hungry."

UCF opens its season Sept. 2 at the Florida Citrus Bowl against Villanova of the Atlantic 10 Conference. The Knights have seven home games in 2006, compared to only four one year ago.

A chat with 6-foot-4, 240-pound, senior defensive lineman Chris Welsh, of Cocoa:

UCF achieved a great deal of success last season, but the phrase "playing with swagger" is an outlawed phrase around here, isn't it?

"If Coach O'Leary read anywhere that any one of us said anything like that, there would be hell to pay. We do have a lot of confidence in ourselves, but that has a lot to do with what we've been able to achieve in the offseason in the weight room, not by what we did last year. Our strength and conditioning program is great. Guys are stronger and faster, putting up bigger numbers in the weight room than we did last year."

You learn humility pretty quickly playing for a guy like George O'Leary, don't you?

"There are no star players on this team. We're a team, not a bunch of individuals. That's how we did it last year, and that's the only way it's going to work this year. Coach O'Leary won't let you get a swelled head. I don't care if we would have won the national championship last year, we'd still come in with the same hunger this year. He's got a way of letting you know if you're getting full of yourself."

Is it different coming into this season, knowing that you know how to win instead of having a huge losing streak hanging over your head?

"We're certainly not going to sneak up on anybody this year, inside the conference or outside the conference. Everybody on our schedule, I believe, will come into the game with us thinking it's a big game. No one is taking us lightly, I don't think. We're going to step it up. Certainly we're going into the season with a different attitude and more confidence because we know we can win, other than being a bit unsure of ourselves, which is what we might have been last August."

UCF plays games on Tuesday, Sept. 26; Wednesday, Oct. 4; and Friday Oct. 13 this season, all televised by ESPN. A quirky schedule, but you'll take it with the national exposure, you won't you?

"Absolutely. Playing on television is an amazing feeling. There's a lot of people watching the games, and it shows you that your program is headed in the right direction. That's what the University of Central Florida needs, the exposure. We're making great strides, and now it's our job to go out and win football games."

What's different about the UCF program now from when you first arrived here?

"There's a lot more respect for the program as a whole, from the players' standpoint. We bought into Coach O'Leary's system. After last season, I believe the players have adapted to our coaches' style of coaching much better than before. We trust them, and it works. Guys are stronger, bigger, in better shape than in the past, and they're more knowledgeable. We've got more guys who want to get better. There's a different attitude around here.

What was it like to help bring this school its first bowl game?

"It was one of the single greatest experiences of my life as far as sports are concerned. It was a great trip. It was very prestigious for us, and it meant a lot to everybody involved in this program. I wasn't happy for two reasons, however. One was because we didn't win, and, because I was injured in that game. That's all in the past, though, and I'm focusing on getting through this camp and looking to our home-opener with Villanova."

You're playing both USF and UF this year. How jacked up are you about that?

"Any time you play a respectable in-state school like Florida or USF, there's definitely going to be that heightened desire to win those football games. The crowd is going to be into it, and there's going to be a lot of hype surrounding those games, but we do have to take them like they're any other game. Sure, we'd love to knock off Florida because that would be a huge upset in a lot of people's minds, and beating USF would be a big feather in our cap, too."

Now that you're a senior, has playing for Coach O'Leary gotten any easier at all?

"No. The only way I can answer that is absolutely not. It never gets easier, and I think the day it does get any easier, then your program needs to be re-evaluated. It's just as difficult as when he got here. He's just as demanding, he still expects the same thing out of his players and you still get 'the look' or the silent treatment no matter if you're a senior or a freshman if you do something he doesn't like. You don't want that."

-- Shawn A. Akers

http://www.news-journalonline.com/NewsJournalOnline/Sports/CollegeSports/sptFBC01080706.htm

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we better beat these guy's!

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What is ucf "full of?"

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I think were full of confidence in the last two games last year, and look what happened. We just need to play like we did during the regular season last year, this year. By the way, why can't I get access to the Dumbgeon?

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I think were full of confidence in the last two games last year, and look what happened. We just need to play like we did during the regular season last year, this year.

Your last two games were aganist two good teams.

1) Tulsa. after ucf game went on to win their Bowl game.

2) Nevada. Defeated Fresno State the week after Fresno took USC to the wire.

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And we hung to the end with Nevada, so I guess we weren't all that bad, just not great.

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By the way, why can't I get access to the Dumbgeon?

Because Brad needs to give you access.

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I COACHED  2 players from nevada

nevada wasnt that good

usf has to take care of business

if these low riders pull the upset, usf will be destroyed in local media

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If Nevada is so bad, how come they are receiving votes in the top 25 and neither of our schools are?

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UCF preseason CUSA champs?  Remember what happened to those back to back Preseason Mac champs a few years back?

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