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December 26, 2013
UCF arrives in Phoenix
UCF arrived in Arizona on Thursday afternoon in advance of their Jan. 1 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl matchup with Baylor.
The Fiesta Bowl media relations team posted a video of the arrival as well as George O'Leary's airport press conference.
Flying into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on a North American Airlines charter, the traveling party stepped off the Boeing 767 onto the red carpet where they were greeted by a large contingent of applauding Fiesta Bowl representatives as well as the sounds of a Mariachi band.
UCFKnights.com multimedia reporter Chip Fontanazza, video camera in hand, was the first off the aircraft as he readied to get footage that will be posted later on the school's official website. Following the Florida Highway Patrol State Troopers, UCF president Dr. John C. Hitt, his wife Martha, head coach George O'Leary, athletic director Todd Stansbury and communications director Brian Ormiston were the first to exit the aircraft.
Every member of the football program - the playing squad and scout team - traveled to Arizona. Family members of administration and coaches were also on the flight.
Before the team buses made their way to the hotel, O'Leary stepped into a hospitality tent on the tarmac for a brief press conference.
"We're very happy to be here as a program, a university and a fanbase," O'Leary said. "We're really looking forward to the festivities and a very competitive game. We took a four-hour ride out here and the only thing I can tell you is when we left Orlando it was about 10 degrees hotter, so we came to the cool weather.
"Again, a great bowl game that you have. I've had a number of coaches call and tell me what a great job the people do in this game with the festivities and the overall great interest in the game. We're very welcomed to be here. We'll be as good a guest as we can be and I know you will be a great host. Thank you for having us here."
Several local media members were already on site, including Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel and Joe Kepner of WFTV.
O'Leary said his team was "ecstatic" to finally be in Arizona.
"Since the announcement that we were coming to the Fiesta Bowl, it's been, 'Can't wait to get out here, can't wait to play in the game and can't wait to complete in the game,'" O'Leary said. "It's been like that every day we've practiced. This morning they were happy to head on the bus and get to the airport. As you can see by the faces getting off the plane, they're ecstatic being here and can't wait to partake in the activities of the Fiesta Bowl."
He was asked about exposure factor and the benefit that could mean for recruiting.
"I think you can't pay for the exposure you get through the Fiesta Bowl committee, their media outlets and of course ESPN doing the game," O'Leary said. "Nationally, it gives you great exposure. I've always said two things can happen: You get great exposure or you get exposed, one or the other. We're looking forward to having great exposure here and a very competitive game. You can't buy the recognition you get from a game like this. We're looking forward to it. Recruiting has greatly increased. We recruit the country. We have a lot of people involved with the national recognition we got this year."
Next, O'Leary was asked about what this game means to the senior class.
"We only have seven seniors on the team, so it's a young team," O'Leary said. "The seniors have done a great job collectively with leadership, not just on the field but off the field. The young kids are like little wild ponies. They like getting around, they like playing, they like competing. They understand what 60 minutes means. I've been very pleased. This is a new experience going to bowl games, so it'll be interesting to see how they handle themselves. They've been given a booklet of what they should be doing and what they better be doing."
And how does O'Leary himself feel about participating in the Fiesta Bowl?
"I'm great," O'Leary said. "I love competition. I love competing. Getting out here and seeing an excited community like Phoenix here. I'm looking forward to enjoying myself. We have practice a couple hours and meetings, but the rest of the time I'm going to enjoy my visit here."
Asked about Baylor's high-tempo offense, O'Leary unleashed one his trademark zingers.
"They run a play about every 17 seconds," O'Leary said. "I did order lassos. I got the 10-footers and not the eight-footers. That can slow them down a little bit there. I've faced (Baylor coach) Art (Briles) and he does a great job with the speed of the game. When you have to be on the field, you can't go in with a lot of defense, just make sure you tackle in space and get off the field. The offense has to move the chains."
UCF quarterback Blake Bortles is perhaps the fastest-rising NFL Draft prospect as some analysts project him to be a potential top 10 pick should he decided to leave after his junior season. O'Leary was asked to describe his style of play.
"He has the size, he has the speed and he has the arm strength which is prerequisite for a quarterback," O'Leary said. "Like all quarterbacks in the country that I respect, they can take a bad play and make a good play out of it. He does a very good job of that. He understands defenses which helps him get the ball to the right areas as far as weakness of the coverage. He understands the run game and front mechanics. He works at the game. Never real high, never low. He keeps a poise about himself. Quarterbacks are your leaders and coaches on the field. He's done an outstanding job making the right decisions and making sure we can move the chains."
Lastly, O'Leary fielded a question about ticket sales to the Fiesta Bowl. UCF would have likely sold out their 17,500 ticket allotment had they played in the much-closer Orange or Sugar Bowls. They will send a smaller number to Arizona, perhaps in the 6,000 to 7,500 range.
"We'll have people out here," O'Leary said. "I think distance and time of year had something to do with it. The school did what they could to accelerate the sale of tickets. We'll have 6,000 or 7,000 out here. That's the number I was given. They'll be loud. We have a bunch of people coming from different states that bought tickets elsewhere and that doesn't go to the count, if they bought outside and not from us. Ticket Tron or something like that.
"I think basically any time you go to a bowl of this magnitude, a BCS bowl, that's huge. If you can't play in the championship game, you want to get to a BCS game. Whether there's 10 people in the stands or 10,000 UCF (fans), we're going to play the same way. I thought the school did a great job of getting the message out why they should be here and I think there will be a lot of them here."