UCF signs 19 as it prepares to enter Big East

UCF signs 19 as it prepares to enter Big East
February 6, 2013, 6:23 pm
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Central Florida coach George O'Leary knew that he'd already have some issues to overcome to secure his first Big East recruiting class.

The Knights' coach thought NCAA-imposed sanctions would be his team's biggest hurdle on national signing day. It turns out that having to sweat out some last-minute poaching attempts wound up causing the twitchiest moments, though.

Running back ``Micah Reed, right up until this morning and five minutes before he mailed the letter he had schools trying to flip him,'' O'Leary said of waiting on the letter of intent from one of his top targets.

The program had its allotment of official visits reduced from 56 down to 30 visits this year, as part of a litany of penalties levied in 2012 for recruiting violations that stemmed from involvement with agent runners.

UCF survived, though, and signed 19 players on Wednesday, filling gaps on a roster that O'Leary believes is ready for its jump to a new conference in 2013.

``This is the first year that, the class that we had, there were at least nine or 10 guys that were trying to get flipped by SEC schools, ACC schools - which I think shows the quality of the class,'' he said.

The Knights' class includes 11 defensive players and 14 players from the state of Florida. It also has three January enrollees, including quarterbacks Pete DiNovo and Justin Holman.

Overall, it ranks No. 75 among FBS schools, according to the recruiting website Rivals.com. That is up from No. 90 a year ago from the recruiting service, but far from the 2011's No. 39 ranking.

Still, the coaching staff secured the players it was targeting to sure up spots created on both sides of the ball because of graduation.

UCF lost a total of 20 seniors from 2012 team that finished 10-4 and won the Beef O'Brady Bowl. But not all were starters. A total of 18 players with at least one start are returning on offense, and 17 on defense. There some key losses, though.

The biggest offensively was the departure of leading rusher Latavius Murray, who graduated along with tailback Brynn Harvey.

But coming in with Reed is also 6-foot, 210-pound Uniondale (N.Y.) High School running back William Stanback, who O'Leary said is capable of playing on either side of the ball.

``One thing you can't replace in college is speed. You either have it or you don't,'' O'Leary said. ``We recruited him as an athlete that could play running back, but could also play safety. Where we need him will dictate where he plays...So the running back corps, I think, is in good shape. ``

On defense the Knights entered recruiting season without two top members of their secondary in leading tackler Kemal Ishmael at safety and cornerback A.J. Bouye. Ishmael and Bouye led the team in interceptions.

Also included in the lists of departures were starting linebackers Jonathan Davis and Ray Shipman. Both had 90-plus tackles in 2013.

O'Leary said this year's group accomplished the ``range, speed and versatility'' quotient his staff was after.

While he said he only expects a handful of freshman to be able to contribute in small roles each year, he said there are players capable of earning those roles with a strong preseason.

Defensively those candidates include Thomasville (Ga.) linebacker Mario Mathis (6-1, 240) ranked No. 47 linebacker in the nation by Rivals.com) and defensive back Shaquill Griffin (6-2, 190), out of nearby Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, rated in the Top 50 at his position.

Griffin was signed along with his brother and identical twin Shaquem Griffin, who is also a defensive back at 6-2 and 195 pounds.

Big things are also expected out of Buford (Ga.) High School's Dontravious Wilson (5-11, 215), one of three spring enrollees in the class, and the No. 68 ranked running back in the county by ESPN.com.

As with any class, though, O'Leary said their outlook heading into a new league will be dependent upon the jump they get during the spring.

That said, he said likes his roster going into the Big East.

``The way I look at it is the last SEC team we played we beat, and the last ACC team we played we beat. I think people forget about that. I think we have a talented team and I think the big thing with this class coming in, looking two or three years down the road...they all have some range.

``If you have range, you're gonna put weight on as part of maturity anyway. I think that's where the semi-skilled guys, I think we have to improve the competition going into next season and years after that.''


Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower.