UCF's visit to Memphis will serve as a homecoming of sorts for redshirt freshman punter Caleb Houston, whose family has roots in the city. His mother, Michelle, graduated from what then was called Memphis State and his father attended Christian Brothers University, which is a stone's throw from the Liberty Bowl.
The Cleveland, Tenn., native is off to a solid start in his first season as the Knights' starting punter. His 13 punts are averaging 42 yards, four of which he placed inside the 20. He booted a 54-yarder and two inside the five-yard line last week against South Carolina.
Earlier this week, Houston met with the media for the first time.
How excited is your family to be going back to Memphis?
They're pumped. My mom I think at last count thinks she has about 50 people coming to the game. It will be fun to get to see everybody again. It's a little ways way so I don't always get to see them. It will be fun."
What are the ties? Your mother is from Memphis, originally? Your father?
"My mom and dad are both from Memphis. My father went to Christian Brothers University which is right next to the Liberty Bowl. My mom went to Memphis State which is now the University of Memphis. I've got a lot of ties to Memphis."
You've got her shedding the Memphis colors this week for Black & Gold?
"I think she would shed any colors for her son. I don't think it's a big deal."
Was Memphis football a part of her life? Did she go to games when she was a student there?
"She always talks about Memphis basketball, of course. A lot of her friends are still big Memphis fans because obviously they live in Memphis. I always see their posts on Facebook talking about going to the Memphis football game. Memphis used to play Tennessee some, so we'd always go up there to see the Memphis-Tennessee game at University of Tennessee."
For you as a redshirt freshman stepping into this role, I know through camp things were a little bit shaky having the pressure of having Coach O'Leary standing three feet behind you, which can be different than the pressure of a game. Are you happy with how you've punted early in the year?
"I'm happy, but I'm never content. I know a lot of things I can do better. I'm going to continue to keep working until I can be the best I can possibly be."
Is the pressure a lot different with O'Leary vs. a game?
"Absolutely. In the game, it's just me and the snapper. But in practice, it's me, the snapper and Coach O'Leary."
At Penn State, late in the game it became a pressure situation when the snap went over your head. What goes through your mind at a time like that? You see that endzone right there as you're running back for the ball. I know you bought some time by getting the punt off, and I know you don't have a lot of time to think about it, but what goes through your mind at a time like that debating whether to kick or take the safety?
"Well, I was running back and I can just remember all these scenarios going through my head and all of a sudden the ball bounced in my hand. I took a quick glance back. You've got to remember this thing happened to me in high school a few times. So I took a quick glance back, saw I had a little bit of room so I knew I could get the punt off, so I thought that's the best thing that could happen."
What did the coaches say afterward? Were they happy with the decision?
"With the situation we were in, they think it was the right thing to do. It's actually just a judgement call. Usually taking the safety would be the best thing to do. They think the right thing happened in that situation."
How did you come to UCF? Did you get in touch with them? Did they see film of you? How did that contact start?
"I actually saw they had a senior punter, Jamie Boyle. So I contacted UCF. I guess I sent them my film and they liked what they saw. I came down and talked to them, committed. Coming here really helped because my grandparents actually moved to The Villages which is just an hour away, so I'd have family close to home. That was really a big factor that came into me choosing UCF."
I know you're from the east part of the state, but were you recruited by Memphis at all? I know they've got a good punter.
"They've got a really good punter. I never even talked to University of Memphis."
Do you look at other punters? I know Coach O'Leary says Memphis' punter, Tom Hornsey, might be one of the best punter in the nation. Do you take the time to see what other guys are doing across the country?
"Yeah, especially teams that we play. I like watching what they do and how they do it. It's good to watch other punters because you can compare yourself, see what I might be doing wrong, compared to what he's doing right. It's always good to get a broad range of punters."
What is a game week like for you like with prep? I know everyone talks about watching film. Are you watching film of how they rush the punter?
"Absolutely. As a specialists corps, we pretty much know everything about their entire special teams. And especially me and (snappers) Teal and Gage, we go in there and look at their punt return so we know what's coming. We work on it all day in practice through different rush looks. I would say we watch quite a bit of film."
What's the mindset of this team going into this game? UCF has won eight in a row vs. Memphis, but it looks like they're a lot better than they've been. They've got a new coach who's really turned it around.
"This is no easy game. This is conference play. We're going to go out and give it our best just like any other week."
You said 50 friends and family in the stands? What do you think that's going to be like having a crowd that big? I'm sure they'll definitely stand out and be loud.
"Unfortunately, they're probably going to be cheering for punt team which isn't always the best situation. I think it will definitely bring some more UCF fans in."