Pressure means nothing to UCF true freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey.
UCF wide receivers coach David Kelly said Godfrey was warming up with sophomore center Jordan Rae before he entered the N.C. State game Saturday during the third quarter, with the Knights trailing the Wolfpack 28-7.
"We asked the center, we said, `Jordan, how was Jeff? Was he nervous?'" Kelly said the coaches' conversation with Rae. "He said, `Coach, we're on the sideline taking snaps.' And he said, `[Godfrey] grabbed me by my chest before we started. He said, `Listen to me. I've been here before. I'm going to lead us to victory. Just follow me.'
"… That's how [Godfrey] feels about himself. And it's infectious. He does it in a way where it's not cocky or bragging. He does it in a way where it incites belief and confidence in his other teammates."
Kelly said the UCF football team has followed in Godfrey's footsteps and evaded pressure this week.
The Knights have ignored chatter about a quarterback controversy, vitriolic criticism lobbed at junior Rob Calabrese and disappointment about a missed opportunity to upset N.C. State. The Knights (1-1) insist they are focused on claiming a road win at Buffalo (1-1) Saturday, regardless of who is the starting quarterback.
Calabrese, who entered the N.C. State game as the Knights' starter, continues to split first-string snaps with Godfrey this week. UCF coach George O'Leary is set to name a starting quarterback Friday, with all signs pointing to backup Godfrey taking over the top job.
"I'm a little bit disappointed to be perfectly honest in how people have responded in regards to Rob Calabrese," said Kelly, the lead recruiter who helped UCF land Godfrey. "I'm not saying I'm getting on anyone and I understand, so don't misinterpret what I'm saying. But in the same token, that's a student athlete. And as far as work ethic, care for the team and all those intangible things, you couldn't ask for a better person than Rob Calabrese. Because we from the inside know that, we're pulling so hard for his success because of the kind of young man he is. We want him to be successful."
Sophomore linebacker Ray Shipman, who played basketball at Florida for two years before transferring to the UCF during the summer to play football, was startled by fans' reaction to Calabrese.
"The fans here are a lot more ruthless than fans at Florida, like booing and all that," said Shipman, who is Godfrey's cousin. " It's kind of crazy."
Senior defensive end David Williams said the team tries to filter out what outsiders say about the program because it doesn't help the players.
"As far as faculty, staff, students on campus, we try not to listen to what they say," Williams said. "A lot of them will make comments that really don't pertain to us and we really try to keep all that information within the football team, so we really don't pay attention."
Shipman was one of many players who said the quarterbacks have managed the pressure of a renewed race for the starting job.
"Calabrese isn't down, they're still competing out there in practice," Shipman said. "It's not even any hatred between the two. They're learning off of each other. Whatever the fans make it out to be, it's not that."
Sophomore running back Latavius Murray said the quarterback competition hasn't divided the team.
"We don't support any quarterback different than the other," he said. "We've got to win together. We're supportive of them both and we know whoever's out there, we've got to get a win as team."
Kelly credits O'Leary for creating an atmosphere where the quarterback competition doesn't have to be a negative situation.
"He's developed a culture where it's family and it's caring for one another more than one's self," Kelly said of O'Leary. "That's why coach is so big with being in the circle. Are you truly in the circle? And truly in the circle means that everybody has their roles and responsibilities. And everybody else is dependent on me to accomplish and execute my role and responsibility regardless of what it may be.
"…That's why regardless of what transpires, nothing is going to cause our kids to splinter or pull away from each other or take sides or develop cliques because of the culture that George O'Leary has created."
If Godfrey wins the starting job, Kelly said he will be ready to lead the Knights.
Godfrey's father began teaching him how to play quarterback when he was 3 years old. Kelly said Godfrey has been accustomed to being "the man" on a football team ever since he was 7 years old leading a Pop Warner football squad to success. Kelly views Godfrey as a quarterback who happens to be a good athlete, rather than a good athlete trying to play quarterback.
"There are certain things you can't coach, you can't teach that the good Lord gives to you," Kelly said. "And Jeff Godfrey's been blessed with those intangibles, those physical qualities.
"… A lot of people are excited, ecstatic and they should have been over that performance [against N.C. State], but it's what I expected of him. Like I said from the eighth grade on when I first started recruiting him, I've been seeing those things."
Read Iliana Limón's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/knightsnotepad and e-mail her at email@example.com.
UCF coaches, players say starting quarterback race hasn't divided team
True freshman Jeff Godfrey continues to be front-runner to earn start against Buffalo, but team continues to support junior Rob Calabrese
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