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UCF Football Returns to Practice Following Hurricane Irma

Knights will next play Sept. 23 at Maryland

Quarterback McKenzie Milton (Photo: Derek Warden)
Quarterback McKenzie Milton (Photo: Derek Warden)

Rust.

That was the word for Thursday as UCF football practiced for the first time in more than a week following the chaos caused by Hurricane Irma.

Head coach Scott Frost, starting quarterback McKenzie Milton and senior tight end Jordan Akins all mentioned the "R" word after practice. But what's more important is they were back on the field, any field, together. If you listen to Frost, it's alarmingly clear how much he wanted his team to be on the Spectrum Stadium field last Friday night facing off against Memphis. He brought up his desire to have that game played as was scheduled four times in his 10 minutes with the press.

"We need to play Memphis," he said. "In my opinion, we should have played them that Friday night. They were in town, ready to play. People above me made the decision not to play that week."

Who made that decision doesn't really matter now because mere hours after Frost's comments, the Memphis matchup was rescheduled for Sept. 30 in Orlando. That was the original date of UCF's game against Maine, which has been shelved so that the Knights and Tigers can complete their conference schedules.

Milton said he was "disappointed" to not be playing Georgia Tech this Saturday. Akins, an Atlanta native, echoed that disappointment over not getting to challenge his hometown team, but really, there's nothing UCF could have done. Once the Memphis game was called off Sept. 7 and UCF allowed its football players to evacuate if they chose to do so, Frost could see the writing on the wall.

"I knew once we released the kids it was going to be hard to get them back," he said.

Some of his players, especially those from South Florida, told Frost they needed to go home to help their family. Many Knights, more than 40 percent of the team according to the head coach, departed the campus. Some traveled to their out-of-state homes, from Georgia to California. It was those safety-first decisions Frost said he had no problem with.

"In hindsight," he said, "I think we all would have been fairly safe staying here, but you just don't know that and that's an awfully big gamble to take when you don't know where the hurricane is going to hit. ... If I was a parent and if I had the means to get my kid out of Florida with a hurricane coming, I might do it, too."

Thus, the Knights have spent the majority of this week not preparing for a game but reassembling their team. UCF usually practices on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday during a game week, but by this Wednesday, Frost said a quarter of his roster had not yet returned. On Thursday, Frost said the team was still five players shy of being whole.

"Even a short week would have been OK," he said. "But losing two or three practices and trying to play a game would have been impossible. ... Playing it somewhere else wouldn't have mattered. In fact, travel would have made the problem worse."

Plus, with the number of police officers and ancillary staff members needed to handle a game day probably unavailable -- as our Jeff Sharon and Eric Lopez pointed out in this week's podcast -- as well as the fact that Spectrum Stadium is serving as a staging area for the National Guard, UCF playing a football game this weekend was unfeasible from many angles.

Frost spent the hurricane at home with his parents and pregnant wife. Milton went through it at his apartment, reading "Wild at Heart" during the day and a half he spent without power. Akins stayed in his on-campus dorm, worrying about his family in Georgia who had to deal with power outages, downed trees and flooding.

The impact of Hurricane Irma will be felt for years in parts of Florida and other states. Football is incredibly insignificant by comparison. But it is football that these men returned to Thursday with their focus -- at least some of it -- on the 2-0 Maryland Terrapins.

There is a lot of work to be done until that Sept. 23 kickoff as UCF looks to recapture what it did well in its season-opening blowout of FIU. That was 16 days ago. But at least the Knights have something to look forward to now as life slowly begins to return to normal.

"We've got to get out there, knock off some rust and get back to it," Akins said.