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UCF QBs Brimming with Confidence as Camp Competition Begins

Brandon Wimbush, Dillon Gabriel and Quadry Jones are all out to prove why they should be behind center in Week 1.

Brandon Wimbush
Photo by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“Game on.”

That, per Dillon Gabriel, was one of the final things UCF quarterbacks coach Jeff Lebby said prior to the official start of training camp to the three men competing to be the Knights’ starting QB.

Gabriel, Quadry Jones and Brandon Wimbush each had their first opportunity of the fall to impress the coaching staff Wednesday. And for what it’s worth, head coach Josh Heupel did enjoy parts of what he saw.

“Some good, some bad, like other positions,” Heupel said following the practice. “I thought [Gabriel] was really consistent throwing the football throughout the entire day. Liked what he did. Got into some team situations, and he probably would want one or two situations back.

“Brandon, I thought, got better as the day went on. By the time we got to team situations, he was really accurate with some of the deep ball stuff down the field.

“And Quad was consistent throughout the day.”

Heupel is obviously far away from making a final decision, but each quarterback is filled with the belief that they will be annointed prior to the Aug. 29 season opener versus Florida A&M.

“My mindset is to dominate,” said Jones, who has packed on a noticeable amount of bulk. According to Heupel, the redshirt freshman added 18 pounds of muscle during the offseason, dramatically changing his body and making him stronger and more explosive in the process.

That extra burst has shown up during recent sprints between the quarterbacks, where Wimbush playfully accused the the oft-victorious Jones of cheating.

“I said, ‘beating,’ because I was beating him,” Jones countered. “I let him win a few times.

“It’s still a brotherhood. It’ll never change depending on who’s starting. We’re still going to teach each other.”

Although Jones is the most acquainted among the trio with Heupel’s system, no one comes close to Wimbush in terms of on-field know-how. The grad transfer from Notre Dame was at the helm of a top-15 team in 2017, one that defeated the likes of Michigan State, USC and LSU. He is hoping to use that comfort in big-time situations to set himself apart.

“More than anything, I come with experience, playing at a pretty high level against pretty good competition, week in and week out,” he said. “I’m not going to say I’m the guy for the job, but I think those attributes put me in a good position to step out there on Aug. 29.”

However, Wimbush lost his starting gig in 2018 thanks in large part to poor accuracy. Heupel credited Wimbush’s errors then to bad body positioning above anything else. That’s something the 22-year-old has worked hard to hone since he arrived in the winter.

“Sometimes, it’s just the fundamentals that maybe go awry,” he said about his struggles last year. “You’ve just got to get back to doing those little things that got you where you are.”

Wimbush disagrees with the sentiment that his experience gives him an inherent leg up on his younger competition; it’s more about what you do on the field. One key mentioned multiple times Wednesday is that ability to be consistent. And going back to that initial quote from Heupel, Gabriel shined in that area on Day 1.

The Hawaiian said he was “super stoked” to start his first college training camp and show what he’s got to offer. One attribute he definitely has in his bag is that confidence.

Even with that, Gabriel knows he has plenty to learn and welcomes all helpful voices. An easy one is McKenzie Milton. Unsurprisingly, they were in touch often leading up to camp, with the younger Mililani High School grad trying to pick the brain of the alum he followed.

“Me and KZ are super close. He’s a brother to me. Love that guy,” Gabriel said. “He’s already been through it, so everything I can -- I’m not shy with questions; I hit him up every time I can. We FaceTime as much as we can.”

Milton will be spending this season as a coach of sorts as he continues his long road back from a major knee injury. He’ll be joined on the sidelines for a while by Darriel Mack Jr., who was present at Wednesday’s practice, protective boot and all. Heupel said Monday that he doesn’t have a timetable for when Mack will return from his broken ankle. All that is certain right now is that he won’t participate in training camp.

“I love DJ. We all love DJ,” Gabriel said of Mack. “We hate to see him go out like that. But his season’s not over. He’ll be back and I know he’ll be good.”

The Knights will begin the new season with a new starting quarterback in more ways than one. Jones looks like a new man. Wimbush moved to a new college environment. Gabriel is playing at a new level.

The winner will be the one best suited to help the Knights achieve their existing goal of 1-0. Although they want to seperate themselves in camp, the competition hasn’t made the three QBs lose sight of the fact tht they must achieve that stated goal together.

“It’s still a brotherhood,” Jones said. “It’ll never change depending on who’s starting. We’re still going to teach each other.”