By Chris Hays, Orlando Sentinel
9:25 PM EDT, August 1, 2013
Who said UCF doesn't recruit Orlando? Perhaps that is a bit of a misnomer.
It was evident during the gathering of players representing UCF first-stringers Thursday at the annual media day, that Orlando is doing just fine, thank you, in its Central Florida representation on the UCF football team.
Eight of UCF's 24 starters are from Orlando or the surrounding area, and that's a point of pride for those Knights who lace up their cleats for the hometown team.
"It is pretty cool," says Joey Grant, an Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley product. "We joke around sometimes and get into arguments about which high school is better and it's really fun to be able to joke around and have a lot of players who are from here."
Grant, a redshirt sophomore, heads into his third season at UCF and is playing his third position, switching over from the defensive line to center. Quarterback Blake Bortles (Oviedo), defensive tackle E.J. Dunston (Orlando Edgewater), defensive end Deion Green (Orlando Edgewater), linebacker Willie Mitchell (Deltona Pine Ridge), safety Drico Johnson (Orlando Agape Christian), cornerback Brandon Alexander (Orlando Evans) and kicker Shawn Moffitt are the other local products joining Grant on the first team.
"I love it because I'm so close to home and my family can be at every game," said Dunston, who enters his senior season. "I love that they call [Bright House Networks Stadium] the Bounce House because it really is . . . that's one of the main reasons I came here because the fans get crazy."
Dunston and Green especially enjoy their continued friendship as teammates in college.
"It's awesome, man," said Green, a redshirt sophomore. "That's one of the biggest reasons why I came, just knowing I would have somebody with me who I had already fought beside, had already battled by. We feed off each other. That chemistry is there on the D-line. It was there in high school and it remains just as strong today."
• When Alexander was a senior at Evans High, he was leaving a situation with the Trojans football program that had spiraled downhill since making the playoffs back in 2001.
After Alexander graduated in 2012, Evans hired veteran coach Chip Gierke and that first season included a district title, a playoff win and a 10-2 record.
Alexander admits to a bit of jealousy, and, for good reason.
He was supposed to be a senior on that Evans squad in 2012, but he skipped a grade — fifth — in elementary school and it moved him into the class that graduated in May 2012.
"Honestly, it was hard, watching those guys," Alexander said. "A lot of people don't know that I skipped a grade. I'm supposed to be a sophomore right now, but I'm a junior.
"I congratulate those guys all the time, but I was like, 'Wow, that could have been me.'"
• Mitchell, a junior, committed to UCF two months before his senior season even started. But that's where he wanted to go and he was set on his decision.
He's played special teams throughout his UCF career, so he's seen action, but he'll feel the nerves of his first game as a starting linebacker when Akron visits Aug. 29.
"That's a feeling that I haven't even experienced yet," Mitchell said. "Of course I'll have some butterflies, but after the first play, they'll be gone."
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