With George O’Leary at the helm, the UCF Knights have transformed from a program without much of an identity and little brand recognition to an AAC powerhouse that has become relevant on the national stage.
The Knights reached a high point by stunning Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, but still were able to follow that up with a 9-4 record and a share of the AAC title in 2014, despite losing several key players. UCF has found great success in recent years, and its status as one of the top programs in the Group of Five conferences will continue as long as O’Leary and his coaching staff take advantage of the recruiting hotbed at their disposal.
The Knights have done a solid job of landing recruits within the state of Florida and the surrounding area during O’Leary’s tenure, and they’ve done particularly well on the recruiting trail over the past couple of years.
According to 247Sports, UCF’s 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes have ranked second and third, respectively, in the AAC. A major reason for this success has been due to their ability to bring in recruits from Florida and Georgia, its neighboring state to the north.
For example, the top recruit from the Knights’ 2014 recruiting class — four-star safety Kyle Gibson — hailed from Seffner, Florida, and it total, 15 of their 17 commits in that year’s class came from either Florida or Georgia.
Their 2015 recruiting class had a fairly similar makeup, with signees such as wide receiver Tristan Payton, cornerback Rashard Causey and offensive lineman Luke Hiers coming from Florida, and 12 of their 19 commits coming from Florida and Georgia.
With only six commitments thus far, UCF hasn’t exactly gotten off to a roaring start during the 2016 recruiting cycle, but four of those commits have come from either Florida or Georgia and there’s still obviously plenty of time left before the next national signing day. Compiling another stellar recruiting class will be key for the Knights to keep themselves among the AAC’s elite programs, and tapping into the vast talent pool surrounding them will be the way to do it.
One such player clearly of UCF’s radar is four-star linebacker Jonathan Jones, a 6-foot, 225-pound Orlando native. Two weeks ago, Jones released a list of his top-five teams still in the running for his services, and his hometown’s school was on that list.
— J.Jones (@KingCaarlos) August 9, 2015
While Michigan is currently considered the frontrunner to land Jones, the fact that the Knights are on the same list as top-flight programs such as Michigan Notre Dame has to be pleasant sight for UCF fans. And even if to their pursuit of Jones ends up being for naught, there’s still plenty of talent remaining in the recruiting pipeline that O’Leary and his staff have taken advantage of in recent years.
The fact that they’re even competing for recruits of the caliber of Jones speaks volumes to the work done by this coaching staff, both on the field and on the recruiting trail. And as long as UCF continues to successfully utilize the recruiting hotbed in the surrounding area, its place among the AAC’s best will remain secure.