The long offseason is finally over.
The UCF football team hit the practice fields Monday afternoon for their first workout of preseason drills. Head coach George O'Leary has a total of 19 practices scheduled over the next two and a half weeks until the conclusion of camp on Aug. 19.
As always, the first few days are more about installation and fundamentals.
"We tried to play a lot of guys," O'Leary said. "We ran four teams. Obviously defense is going to beat offense. I saw some really good things from some of the freshmen today, that's what I'm really looking at to see who can help us in the some of those areas.
"It really is (nice to be back out here).... There's a lot of retention from the kids that were here in the spring obviously. I want to see where some of the younger kids could fit in and help us so we can make some decisions. That's really what the purpose of these first couple days to me are, just to see where some of the young kids are that can help us."
Camp will be highlighted by several key position battles, notably quarterback and running back. Junior Michael Greco and redshirt freshman Joe Weatherford battled for the QB job during spring practice, but O'Leary decided to hold off on naming a starter until camp.
If all goes well, he could name a No. 1 quarterback in a matter of days.
"When I'm ready to make a decision, you'll know," O'Leary said. "I won't keep a secret until game day... I probably won't make a decision on the quarterback until this weekend sometime. If not, we'll continue on. There's nothing wrong with keeping competition at the position."
At the running back position, O'Leary has said it will most likely be by committee. Redshirt freshman Ronnie Weaver is joined by newcomers Brandon Davis, Brynn Harvey, Brendan Kelly and Latavius Murray, all of whom saw plenty of carries on Monday. Each brings something a little different to the table.
"I'm asked the question all the time, 'Who is replacing Kevin (Smith)?' Nobody, he's an consensus All-American and you don't replace him with anybody," O'Leary said. "I think we have two or three guys that I was pleased with their movement out there. Brandon Davis showed me some and Latavius Murray I thought did some nice things out there... I was really happy with the speed I saw at the running back position.
"We'll continue to evaluate, but it's hard to evaluate without pads on. Once you put pads on I think they'll start separating themselves a little bit more."
Kelly had been signed as a tight end, but he's staying at his high school position of running back. It was anticipated that freshman Vance King would be in the running back mix, but he's now lining up at wide receiver where he saw a lot of action on the first day.
"We switched them this summer," O'Leary said. "I moved Vance to receiver. He's a very skilled athlete. Kelly was in the backfield, he was a running back in high school. I just wanted a bigger back back there. He's a 230-pound guy who has good running ability."
Practice continues Tuesday with a morning workout scheduled for 9:20 a.m. The team will meet with the reporters later in the afternoon for the annual media day.
More position shuffling: Mike Lavoie may still end up as the team's starting center, but O'Leary wants to see what some other guys can do at the position. Junior Ian Bustillo and senior John Hafferty split time on Monday snapping the ball with the first team, while Lavoie filled in at left guard.
"I think the more experience we can get at that position the better off we are," O'Leary said. "I think (Mike) Lavoie can snap it, I know he's played there. John Hafferty came in as a transfer and he's getting an opportunity there. Ian Bustillo has been with the program for three years, so he'll have an opportunity."
Hafferty, a fifth-year senior, played his first three seasons at Kansas State before transferring to West Virginia last year. However, a family situation necessitated a move back home to DeLand and he enrolled at UCF over the summer. He has already been granted a hardship waiver by the NCAA to play his final season as a Knight.
Wes Sauvao switched sides and moved to offensive guard during spring practice, but now he's back at defensive tackle. O'Leary felt he would stand to contribute more on that side of the ball.
"I always like big bodies inside and he wasn't going to be as much help offensively as he would have been defensively," O'Leary said. "He has some experience inside playing on defense so that was a natural move to make."
UCF had expected freshman Chris Martin to possibly contribute at defensive tackle, but he will now grayshirt as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
Quote of the Day
George O'Leary: "I think the key to our season is going to obviously be the conference games, but our conferfence and ourselves, we have to start winning these non-conference games. I think that's where you get respect in the country and that's where you get noticed. Conference dictates what happens to us, but non-conference games dictate a lot of stuff nationally. If you want to move up in the rankings as a conference and as a team, youv'e got to win these non-conference games. That's what's important."
*** Meet the new "24K" at UCF-- Brendan Kelly. The true freshman running back from Long Island is wearing Kevin Smith's old number.
*** O'Leary said it's probable that all of the freshman offensive linemen would redshirt, but he hinted that guard Steven Robinson might have a chance to crack the rotation this season. As always, decisions about freshmen will be determined as camp progresses.
*** UCF Football might have its first legacy. Make that plural-- legacies. Nick Giovanetti (DB) and Billy Giovanetti (RB), sons of UCF Hall of Famer Billy Giovanetti, are new walk-ons to the program. The pair played their high school ball at Bishop Moore High School. Dad, a standout linebacker, played on the very first football team at UCF.
*** In addition to the Giovanetti's, the other first-year walk-ons include: Shaun Shaffner (PK), Lyle Dankenbring (DB), Nick Cattoi (PK), Nicholas Black (DB), Charles Hughlett (DL), Clayton Berry (OL), Kevin Garvy (DL), Zac Norris (OL), Ash Weekly (DL) and Jordan Rae (DL).
*** Kyle Israel and Renford Parkes were among the former football players who caught part of the practice.
*** Orlando (Fla.) Edgewater defensive back Henry Wright, who committed to UCF over the summer, watched practice from the sidelines with his father.
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