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Josh Heupel’s Message to UCF Players During Uncertainty-Laden Fall Camp: ‘Have Fun’

The Knights’ third-year head coach talked about football in the time of COVID, McKenzie Milton and more on Thursday

Houston v Central Florida

The UCF Knights are a week into their fall camp. The players are working hard to prepare for their season-opening game next month. The team’s Twitter account is posting photos and videos of practice activities.

That much we know and that all looks and sounds normal. However, obviously, there is so much we don’t know, and none of this is truly normal.

“Nothing is status quo of what it was a year ago,” head coach Josh Heupel said Thursday.

Health checks, temperature scans, mandatory mask usage, frequent hand washing. Players split up into small groups on the practice field and position meetings held in new locations, both done in the name of social distancing. Despite all of the novelties instituted for this training camp because of the novel coronavirus, Heupel says his players have adjusted well.

“Our guys, as they’ve gone through the summer, have gotten better and better at really following those guidelines and becoming more comfortable with them,” he said.

But the players are still left to juggle with all of the unknowns that lie ahead. They have asked questions and expressed concerns to Heupel about the American Athletic Conference’s game day protocols and their future eligibility if they decide to play or opt out of this season. On that second issue, Heupel said he is in favor of granting all fall-sport athletes an added year of eligibility no matter how their season unfolds. The NCAA Board of Directors will finally bring resolution to that issue on Friday.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Heupel said. “With all of the uncertainty that players are facing in this season, ensuring that those kids have the opportunity to have a year that they’ve worked for for a long time is important to them. I know it would be to me as a player. It’s important to me as a coach that those guys get that opportunity.”

Heupel was also quick to point out that the uncertainty with COVID-19 extends well beyond any end zone or sideline. Ultimately, he wants the Knights to recognize what they can control, block out what they can’t, and try to find some peace of mind when they are with their teammates.

“There’s uncertainty everywhere in life, not just in football,” he said. “The added stress of every interaction that you have, the uncertainty that lies when you go out into the community and all of those interactions, that’s real for our players. There is an added stress to it. For our players, we really talk about controlling the controllable. You get today; enjoy today. Have fun, man.

“We’re obviously pushing forward. Our kids are excited about being on the football field. They want to play football. They love being around each other, practicing, but they want to get out there and play games, too.”

KZ and BAM Updates

Thursday was the first time since April that Heupel was at the head of a scrum with local media. In those four months, McKenzie Milton has taken steps forward (and backward and side to side) in his journey to play football once again. Heupel said nothing definitive about Milton’s playing status, but he did continue to laud his quarterback’s progress.

“He’s doing a lot of really good things,” Heupel said of Milton. “Everybody has seen the videos of him when he’s gone up to see his doctor. He’s cleared for more and more activity. He’s doing all of the individual work, throwing footballs, some group stuff where he definitely doesn’t have a chance to be touched. As training camp goes on, he’ll be able to do more and more things. It’s really just him continuing to push the envelope in his rehab process and where that leads us to here this season and potentially next year.”

Editorial: The “potentially next year” bit is probably the most revealing part of that quote.

Heupel also gave an update on senior cornerback Brandon Moore, who tore his left ACL and dislocated his left kneecap nearly one year ago versus Florida A&M. Heupel expressed a considerable amount of optimism that Moore will play and play well this season.

“He’s doing a lot better. He’s getting close to doing all functional movement and then preparing himself to get back out there on the field at some point this fall,” he said of Moore. “He’s done a great job of continuing to battle and handle that rehab process. I’m proud of what he’s done. He’ll be back and he’ll be playing at a championship level, no doubt about it.”

Moore also provided one of the lighter moments of Thursday’s practice as he intercepted a pass while observing practice and started running as if he was gunning for a pick-six.

“He caught it and took off down the sideline,” Heupel said with a laugh.

Knights Opting Out

This was one of a few topics that Heupel didn’t expand on much.

“We have a couple of guys that have opted out. The paperwork is not finished, so I’m not going to release any names at this point,” he said.

Two Knights have said publicly that they are opting out of the 2020 season: redshirt junior cornerback Devunte Dawson and redshirt senior defensive back Josh Kelly. But it’s likely that there are more names to come.

First-Year Standouts

When asked which freshmen have impressed early on in camp, Heupel immediately mentioned defensive backs Davonte Brown, Justin Hodges and Quadric Bullard.

“Three DBs that have jumped off on the tape,” Heupel said. “Just their ability to comprehend what’s going on in the meeting room, come out on the field, compete against really good talent and reset to the next play, whether the previous play was positive or negative.”

Heupel added that wide receiver Ja’Cyais “Stretch” Credle and running back Johnny Richardson are “two guys that pop out” on offense.

Portal Pickups

If you’ve been paying attention lately, you know that UCF has been stockpiling talent via the NCAA transfer portal this month. While Heupel said he hopes to have that whole group cleared to practice by the end of the week, one of the transfers, former Georgia cornerback Divaad Wilson, has been participating since camp opened on Aug. 14.

“A tremendous athlete, great player,” Heupel said of Wilson. “Has a base understanding of what we’re doing on the defensive side of the ball. Coverages and verbiage is different but has transitioned really well.”