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Game Week has Finally Arrived for the UCF Football Team

The Knights are just five days away from their 2020 debut against Georgia Tech

UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel.
Photo: UCF Athletics

After an offseason full of uncertainty and unrest, Monday provided the UCF Knights football team something they haven’t had in wide supply since March: normalcy.

Their preparation for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets started toward the end of last week, but the Knights hit the field this morning for their first game-week practice of the year.

“For once, life seems a little normal for a little bit,” quarterback Dillon Gabriel said. “Being able to just be around the guys has been something I will never take for granted again.”

Whole months came and went where the Knights didn’t know if they would ever reach this point. But now, the realization that they are just five days out from their 2020 season opener in Atlanta is starting to sink in.

“It’s surreal because just, I say, maybe two months ago we were unsure if we were ever going to play or when we’re going to play or how it’s going to be,” linebacker Eriq Gilyard said. “Now that just built up and we’re finally here. It feels good just to know that we have a game on Saturday, that I’ve got something to go prepare for.”

Head coach Josh Heupel added: “It was awesome to see them get started on their Monday routine. A lot of energy and excitement from those guys. Looking forward to this week.”

The players will get their hands on the full game plan for Georgia Tech during meetings tonight, but they saw a sneak preview of what they will be up against this past weekend as the Yellow Jackets staged a second-half comeback to defeat Florida State in Tallahassee. Quarterback Jeff Sims threw a couple of early interceptions, but he utilized his dual-threat ability to gain a team-high 64 rushing yards and threw the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“He’s very good with his feet,” linebacker Eriq Gilyard said of Sims, who both call Jacksonville home. “I think Florida State did a pretty good job the first half kind of containing him, but the second half, he had some plays where he made some things happen with his feet. We’ve just got to stick to our assignments.”

The Knights will scheme ways to confuse Sims and confound a defense that held the Seminoles to just 307 total yards. But as the anticipation builds toward the Saturday afternoon kickoff, Heupel wants his players to slow down and savor the journey on which they are about to embark. Take nothing for granted.

“Enjoy the process leading up to kickoff,” Heupel said. “We actually get an opportunity to go play football this Saturday. Enjoy that. Relish it. Let’s have fun getting ready.”

Knotes

Quarterback McKenzie Milton won’t play in this first game and, “realistically” probably won’t see action in the first couple of weeks, Heupel added. However, the coach did say that Milton’s rehab has continued along in the right direction.

“His health is continuing to get better. He’s throwing with our guys, he’s moving around in the pocket, doing some of those things. I think he’s getting more and more comfortable.”

Gabriel was away from his fellow Hawaiian for basically the entire spring as Milton remained on campus to continue his recovery. When Gabriel returned to Orlando for summer workouts, he said Milton looked like “a whole different dude” physically and has started to look like “the old KZ.”

Gabriel continued: “I know it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when (Milton returns to playing football). I’m excited for him. I’m his biggest fan. I’m excited to see what God has in store for him.”

UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton in full stride in August.
Photo: UCF Athletics

Heupel said he doesn’t know the playing status of UCF’s four recent Power Five transfers — defensive backs Divaad Wilson and Jaiden Francois, wide receiver Dionte Marks, and running back RJ Harvey. Each man is still waiting to receive a waiver to play immediately. Heupel will speak to the media on Thursday, his final availability prior to the game. You can be sure he’ll be asked about the status of those transfers again.

Heupel said the team received on Monday their first of three COVID-19 tests this week. AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco said last month that football student-athletes would be given two molecular PCR tests per week and that it was possible a third test — an antigen test — would be added. Although there hasn’t been any public confirmation from the conference, Heupel’s statement makes it seem clear that, yes, the AAC has indeed decided to test its football players three times per week this season.

Let’s close with this quote from Gabriel, who was asked about what he saw from Georgia Tech’s defense against FSU:

“They’re a physical team. They’ve got a lot of good players. They’re a good team, but we’re also a pretty damn good team, too. We’ve got a lot of players coming back. We’re really excited for this opportunity, and once it comes to Saturday at 3:30, we’ll get this thing rolling.”

Five days and counting.