ORLANDO -- Don’t expect UCF’s momentum for its 2013 recruiting class to slow down despite today’s announcement of NCAA sanctions, which include a one-year postseason ban.
The Knights are one of the hottest teams in the state on the recruiting trail. During the last month they have secured commitments from ESPN 300 wide receiver Richard Benjamin (Tampa, Fla./Tampa Bay Tech) along with three-star prospects Pete DiNovo (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake) and Shaquill Griffin (St. Petersburg, Fla./Lakewood).
Griffin said he expects the Knights coaching staff to continue to build a strong class.
“I talked with the coaches about the situation this morning and it doesn’t really affect anything for me and my brother,” said Griffin, who committed to UCF on Friday with his twin brother Shaquem. “When we get to the program, this penalty is going to be in the rear-view mirror and we’re going to be focused on winning the Big East.”
The sanctions included being cited for a lack of institutional control -- and capped off a disappointing campaign in 2011. The Knights were widely considered one of the favorites to win Conference USA and were even mentioned as a sleeper pick to represent the non-AQ conferences in the BCS.
But after a 2-0 start, UCF lost road games to Florida International and BYU to quiet any talk of a BCS berth. The Knights failed to become bowl-eligible after losing three of their final four games and finishing 5-7.
As the Knights struggled on the field, the off-the-field controversy began coming to light. Top assistant and recruiting ace David Kelly resigned amid the allegations in November. Kelly was credited with UCF’s impressive recruiting haul out of Miami-Dade County in the recruiting class of 2010, when 11 of UCF’s 23 signees hailed from Miami.
One of Kelly’s top recruits in that class, quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey, temporarily left the program after the season and his father, Jeff Godfrey Sr., suggested to the Orlando Sentinel that his son didn’t trust head coach George O’Leary after Kelly's departure.
Since then Godfrey has returned to the program and will play wide receiver for the Knights in 2012. Meanwhile UCF only signed one Miami prospect in the class of 2012 and so far have none from the area in the class of 2013.
And while there is little doubt that Kelly’s departure hurt UCF’s recruiting efforts in Miami, the Knights have been enjoying increased exposure around the rest of the state behind the work of new recruiting coordinator Kirk Callahan.
The Knights have done well on the west coast of Florida with verbal commitments from prospects in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Naples and Fort Myers. They also have had a strong presence in Jacksonville this year.
“UCF started coming here a little during the start of my junior year,” said four-star linebacker Seyvon Lowry (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast). “But now they have really started to recruit my school hard and it’s a good thing because the program is headed in the right direction and a lot of prospects around Jacksonville are interested.”
Lowry said that he talked to UCF coaches this morning and his commitment to the program remains solid.
“I’m all about UCF because their problems had a lot to do with some guys that aren’t there now,” Lowry said. “The new guys on the staff want to do things the right way.”
DiNovo also spoke with coaches. While the bowl ban won’t affect his class, he said the UCF coaching staff was disappointed by the NCAA’s result.
“I think the program is always looking ahead but from talking with Coach O’Leary they were focused on having a good season this year and winning Conference USA,” DiNovo said. “Obviously the future in the Big East looks bright with the class coming in, but the staff at UCF wanted to leave Conference USA as the champions.”