This story has been updated.
UCF’s struggles on the offensive line this season have been more than evident. To get a better perspective of the situation, nobody was better to ask than someone who strapped up and played the game themselves. We got in touch with former UCF offensive linemen Aaron Evans and Jordan McCray for their take.
Evans appeared in 49 games during his career at UCF (2013-2017), including 36 starts at left tackle. His first year on the team, UCF won the Fiesta Bowl and in his last, they won the Peach Bowl. He was also part of the 0-12 2015 team and experienced a coaching change when Scott Frost took over in 2016. He’s one of the rare players who’s been part of the highest and the lowest points in this program’s history.
McCray started 28 games for UCF during his college career (2010-2013) with 8 starts at right guard and 20 starts at left guard. In his senior year he was named captain, named All-American Athletic Conference First Team, and helped lead UCF to a conference championship and a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor.
UCF has had 25 false starts in their first three games. How much of the blame would you put on the coaching staff for those mistakes?
AE: I do blame the coaching staff for a lot of it. It starts with discipline and that comes from the leadership. It also appears that there’s a communication problem. When I played and we had a lot of offside errors, there was a lack of communication of assignment and play and I believe we’re seeing that.
JM: I know that we have a coaching staff that focuses on discipline so I wouldn’t put it all on them. It’s just something that coaches and players have to keep putting emphasis on to remove those penalties.
If you were the offensive line coach, how would you go about getting the pre-snap penalty issues fixed?
AE: If I were the coach, I would have practices with a different snap count every play and if there were penalties at practice we would rerun the play until we ran it right. There would be up-downs, sprints, or some sort of punishment to reinforce it. It’s costing us games - it’s that important.
JM: If I was coaching I would just make sure that there are a variety of cadences we use during practice so it will help the players focus more. When it’s fixed in practice it will be fixed in the game. I know we will get it done.
Lots of fans are calling for Heupel’s job after the loss to Tulsa. Do you think it’s justified?
AE: Calling for his job after one loss is crazy. Our fans need to stop acting like the sky is falling when we lose a game. I see so many people bashing our center as if we hadn’t lost the game prior to the last drive. There was a visible demeanor shift in the third quarter and we never recovered. Tulsa wanted to beat us more than we wanted to beat them.
JM: No, it’s not justified at all. We have been spoiled with success at UCF these past couple years and rightfully so because of our coaches and players. Last year was a down year and we won 10 games. This ruins playoff hopes most likely but we still have a chance to win every game we play the rest of the way and have a very successful season. Coach Heupel is a great coach and if one loss makes people think he should be gone, it’s just a testament to the standard he’s set here.
Matt Lee, the freshman center for UCF, has received a lot of criticism for his play so far this season. Lee tweeted “Unbothered. Only fuels me” after the Tulsa game. If you could give any advice to Lee, what would it be?
AE: My advice to Lee would be to keep that mindset. There’s no use in crying over spilled milk. He’s young and will grow a lot. Jordan Johnson wasn’t All-American when he started but he rose to that status. You can’t go one week praising the kid and then want his head the next week. Win as a team, lose as a team.
JM: My advice to Matt is to block out the outside noise. Center is one of the hardest positions in football because of the mental demands as well as the physical ones. You’re only going to get better and these hardships will mold you into an even better player as long as you keep your head up. Remember some fans booed McKenzie Milton his freshman year and now he’s arguably the best quarterback to ever play at UCF. Keep working.
Do you think Josh Heupel has an issue instilling discipline in his players?
AE: I won’t say too much negative of Heupel but I did see the entire team walk off the field after the loss and they didn’t shake one hand*. If that’s the culture Heupel is instilling or allowing then I’m not surprised discipline is suffering. There’s no respect. You have to take every win and if you think you’re a shoo-in, you’ve lost.
* Editor’s Note: Due to COVID protocols, players are not permitted to shake hands after a game.
JM: I don’t think Coach Heupel does. With the type of offense we run and the lack of reps in the offseason this year, that’s probably what is the source for some of the blame. The ship will be righted.
If this many penalties happened under the O’Leary staff, what would the next week of practice be like?
AE: The next practice with O’Leary would be intense. The meetings might be worse. We would have punishment and extreme discipline drills without any wiggle room. We can’t build a dynasty and lose games we should win by a mile.
JM: If we had this many penalties with O’Leary, practice would be hell. Shoot, practice was hell already and this never happened with us, so I’m not sure. I’m glad it didn’t, though.
Since graduating from UCF, Jordan went on to play a few seasons in the Arena Football League before a stint with the Chicago Bears, the Orlando Apollos of the AAF, and the Tampa Bay Vipers of the XFL.
Evans spent time with the Eagles after graduating from UCF and also played for the Orlando Apollos of the AAF but is now focusing on his career as an artist. Below is some of Aaron’s work featuring none other than Jordan McCray himself! Get in touch with Aaron to commission a mural or buy an original.