John Rhys Plumlee may have one of the most complicated relationships with a fanbase that we have ever seen. UCF Knights fans either love him or are extremely critical of him. There is no in-between.
I’ll be honest, at some points I fell into the extremely critical crowd. This was mainly during last season, where I flip-flopped a lot on the guy. But all of this season, I considered myself part of the JRP Fan Club. And I believe that club has grown a lot this year. Though that extremely critical crowd was there all football season, I feel like it got smaller and that Plumlee turned a lot of haters into fans. But still, you go onto social media right now and you’ll see a few comments criticizing him.
Why do I bring this up? Because it plays into what I want to talk about. JRP announced he will not play baseball for UCF in the spring to pursue an NFL career. His final appearance in a UCF uniform will be Saturday at the Hula Bowl in FBC Mortgage Stadium.
Now that we can officially say his time as a Knight is over, I’ve been thinking a lot about JRP. About his time here and everything he’s done.
This all goes back to November, after the Houston game. JRP was at the podium at the postgame press conference and I got to ask him a question. I’ve talked with JRP before. I joined the Banneret back in January after the football season had ended, so all of those conversations were about baseball and not football, but I was used to questioning him. But despite that, the answer he gave has stuck with me.
On Senior Day, a day where you celebrate an athlete’s time with a program, I wanted to ask JRP a question that reflected that theme of legacy. I asked him what he would remember the most about his time on the football team and how he wanted the UCF fans to remember his time with the team.
I was expecting a short answer. A few sentences mentioning positive times or being thankful or something like that. The response he ended up giving me was nothing like that. It was long, emotional, and thoughtful. He talked about his love for UCF, the memories he made, what he gave to the program, his locker room relationships, the things he did off the field and so much more.
Everything he said was really summed up by the way he ended his answer. He said “Quarterback is just one thing I do. It’s not who I am.” When I first heard that I chuckled to myself because yeah of course it’s not the only thing to do. Your whole gimmick as an athlete was that you played multiple sports. You became a mini-celebrity this past spring when you played in a baseball game and the spring football game on the same day.
But when look back at that quote, I realize he’s right in more ways than just that. JRP did a lot here at UCF. He did things that went beyond sports. When people talk about his time here, it will take a while because there is so much you need to mention.
JRP’s answer to my question was passed around a bit on Twitter and I’ve read some of the comments on the video. Those comments reflect what I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, the two sides of the UCF fan base. I saw comments thanking JRP and then I saw some comments going after the guy. The one comment that stuck out to me said, “Legacy, what legacy? What did this guy do here?”
Those moments are what made me want to write this. I want to answer that guy’s question. I want to talk about how I’ll remember JRP’s time at UCF and what I think his legacy should be. I know some might question why I’m choosing to write about him considering there were so many other impactful football players who are also leaving UCF. But I think this is a discussion that’s worth having. So here’s what I think JRP’s legacy should be. And much like how the man said he isn’t one thing, my answer isn’t just one thought.
That’s My Quarterback
Should probably get this one out of the way first. I must admit I have some personal bias when looking at JRP’s career. If you’re thinking that bias comes from me having the opportunity to talk to him several times, that’s not it. My bias comes from the fact that really, he’s the first true UCF QB I’ve seen as a fan.
What do I mean by that? I’m currently a junior at UCF. My first year as a true Knights fan was 2021. Before that, I didn’t have any allegiances to UCF, as I didn’t have any family connections to the university, or any college football team, as my parents went to a school that didn’t have a team. I bring that up to show that I wasn’t around for the great UCF QBs of the past. I wasn’t there for Blake Bortles. I do remember watching McKenzie Milton but it wasn’t as a fan. Dillion Gabriel was the first person I saw play QB for the Knights during my freshman year, but he didn’t make an impression on me because went down after three games and left at the end of the year. The UCF QB who made an impression on me was JRP.
I did see a lot of Mikey Keene, but he never felt like the guy. He was either the guy replacing Gabriel or JRP. JRP was here long enough to where I looked at him as the guy. The UCF guy. Because of that, he’ll always stick out to me as the first QB I connected with as a UCF fan. And that does give him brownie points for me when I look back at his career.
Fun to Watch
When fans think of JRP they need to think of the incredible plays he made. Plays like him flipping in the air when diving for a touchdown against FAU. Or his 67-yard touchdown run against Tulane. Or all the times he threw dots to his receivers this past season. Or all of the home runs he home round he robbed. Or all of the balls he sent over the wall of John Euliano Park
Even those who are critical of JRP have to admit he was entertaining. When he was at his best he was fun to watch. His running ability will of course be what people remember about his play style, but we shouldn’t forget how much better of a passer he became this season. He threw some incredible deep balls this year and his arm made up for him being able to scramble following his injury. When he was healthy his year he was capable of putting on a show in two different ways, which is what he did.
And of course his his athleticism made him a joy to watch on the baseball field. As a Rays fan, he reminded me a lot of Kevin Kiermaier. He was the guy you could expect to make an incredible catch, steal a base, or beat out a throw. The only difference between JRP and Kiermaier is that JRP could hit. He was one of the best hitters in the squad. Every time I was at the ballpark it felt like he got at least one hit a game.
His UCF highlight tape is a joy to watch and proof that Knight fans should remember him as dynamic, a playmaker, and arguably one of the most entertaining quarterbacks to ever play for UCF.
I was dumbfounded when that guy on Twitter asked what JRP had done at UCF because the guy did provide so many moments. As the team leader, he helped lead UCF to a conference championship, be ranked in the top 25 for a few weeks, and get the team to two bowl games, helping expand the program’s bowl streak to eight. To say the guy was part of nothing important is crazy.
And are we going to forget about the incurable performances he had? Are we going to forget about when he ran for 178 yards and two touchdowns against #17 Tulane? Or when he scored a combined seven touchdowns against Temple? Or when he torched #15 Oklahoma State? I don’t think so.
Baseball fans should remember him hitting two home runs against North Florida, which helped break the team record for most combined home runs hit in a game. They should remember his three RBI game which helped the Knights earn a series victory over USF. They should remember him playing a role in the team scoring nine runs in the 8th to come back and beat Dartmouth.
For me, there are a lot of little moments that I’ll remember. Moments where people might forget his contributions. I’ll remember his performance against USF in the final War on I-4. I know most people remember how that game ended, but I think people forget how good JRP was in that game before an injury forced him out. The guy scored 3 touchdowns and ran for 133 yards in the first half. The image of him running into the end zone and flashing the horns down to the USF student section is something I’ll always remember. I’ll remember him earlier this year leading the game-winning drive against Boise State. Most people will remember Colton Boomer making the game-winning field goal, but I think they need to remember how clutch JRP was in putting together a drive that allowed Boomer to attempt that kick in the first place. The site of him running one more play despite having just injured his knee is a site I’ll look back at fondly.
But if everything I mentioned doesn't convince you, ok then how about the time he became a national headline and briefly made UCF the talk of the sports world? When he played in that baseball game and the spring football game on the same day, remember all of the attention it got? Almost every major sports media outlet was talking about it. Stars like Kyler Murray were praising him. That moment alone made UCF a national talking point. How many athletes can say that?
Great Player, Great Teammate
You can’t say JRP didn’t give it his all. You can’t. The guy went hard on every play. And though that meant he could be a little reckless with his safety sometimes, it also meant you saw he was willing to put his body on the line of the team.
You also can’t say he didn’t work hard. You could see it. I mentioned earlier how he improved as a passer this season. That change in his game doesn’t just happen. You need to put hours of work in on the practice field to make the happen. You saw JRP put so much time into improving his gamer. So much time that he was getting up while it was still dark out so he could practice with the team before going to play baseball.
But JRP wasn’t just a great player for his effort. He was a great player because of who he was as a teammate. Talk to anyone on either the baseball or football team and you understand how much JRP means to them. The teams love him. He is a real locker room guy and a leader. When he went down the entire football team felt off. And I don’t think it was because of the backup. Timmie McClain showed he has talent. I think it was the team that was missing their backbone in JRP.
JRP rarely, if ever, made things about himself. It was about the team. When he was benched or recovering from an injury he was still posting on social media about how much he loved the team. When Mikey Keene led incredible game-winning drives against Cincinnati and USF, Plumlee was all smiles celebrating the team’s win. Even when he faced adversity, he chose to support the team instead of complaining. And for that, he must be respected.
What I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving… pic.twitter.com/TdMHGW2JHo— John Rhys Plumlee (@JohnRhysPlumlee) November 23, 2023
I’m putting this part here because I don’t want to end on something negative. But when you look back at JRP’s time at UCF there are going to be a few what ifs.
JRP suffered a few serious injuries while being UCF’s starting quarterback. Because of that, we didn’t get to see him at his best as much as we would have liked. And you could argue that kept UCF from achieving more.
When I look back at JRP’s on the football team time here I will think, Would we have won the AAC championship against Tulane if JRP wasn’t playing hurt? Would we not have lost to Baylor if JRP was in the game? Would we have upset Oklahoma had JRP been 100%? Would our 2023 record have been better if JRP hadn’t gotten hurt?
And as for his time with the baseball team, I’m only going to wonder what he could have done if he had gotten more than one season. If his appeal wasn’t denied and he was allowed to play in 2022 what would have happened? What would happen if he could play this upcoming season? To only get one season out of him leaves me wishing we could have seen more.
JRP did a lot for these programs, but It can be hard to not feel like we could have had more if he played more.
Man of The People
This final thing I think needs to be what JRP is most remembered for. When he told me that he was more than just a quarterback he was right. He wasn’t just a quarterback at UCF, he was UCF!
When I think of JRP’s time here I’m going to remember how he embraced the UCF community. He embraced it to the point it became part of how he branded himself. When I said I saw him as a UCF guy I meant it. He made UCF part of his personality. When you looked at him you thought of UCF.
You could find him all over the community, supporting or getting involved with anything UCF. He went to events representing UCF. He was the perfect ambassador for the football team, the baseball team and the university. From his involvement in football camps to his promoting Orlando Health, he was someone fellow Knights could be proud of.
But the true thing fans should remember about him was just how kind he was to people. From a media perspective, he was always willing to talk. Being that he was the starting quarterback and centerfielder, many outlets wanted to talk with him and had a lot of questions for him. It was a busy time for him whenever it was media day. But the guy never complained. He always smiled, gave you good answers, and was so respectful to us. The amount of exposure he got had to be annoying, but he never showed that.
But he wasn’t just kind to the media, he was kind to fans. I remember walking out of the media room after the Houston game and I passed by UCF’s locker room. What I saw was a massive crowd of UCF fans all wanting to interact with JRP. All of those fans got their wish. I saw videos later on showing him there for a long time taking pictures, signing autographs and talking with every fan there. That wasn’t a one-off for him. He always did that. If you were a fan, he gave you his attention. He made a lot of fans’ day by being kind to them. In short, he was who you want to see from an athlete. A humble guy who gives back to his fans.
UCF put a wrap on their 2023 regular season with a 27-13 Senior Day victory against Houston.— Brandon Helwig (@UCFSports) November 27, 2023
Several UCF players, including QB John Rhys Plumlee, greeted fans for an extended period following the game's conclusion.
Full Sights & Sounds video: https://t.co/tP365U8n0D pic.twitter.com/204lrJEBME
Put Some Respect on His Name
To wrap this up I want to tell you a true story. JRP once nearly hit me with his truck. This may be my fault, but back in January, I was at the stadium covering one of the Hula Bowl practices. I was walking back to my car and looking down at my phone cause I was texting someone. Then suddenly I felt a hot breeze on my face. I look up to see the front of a truck heading toward me before it stops, inches away from my face. I look up to see who’s driving and who is at the wheel, none other than JRP! But despite him almost running me over, which was primly my fault for not paying attention and is something I honestly find funny, I still love and respect the guy. And that’s the keyword. That’s what fans should think of when they think back on JRP’s time here. They should think of a tough, entertaining guy who loved this university and gave it his all which led to many incurable successes on the football field. That is his legacy. A career that you have to respect.
So to JRP all I can say is that as a UCF Knights fan, it has been a joy to watch you play and as a member of the Black and Gold Banneret it has been a privilege to cover your career. Thank you for everything you’ve done for this team and university and wherever you go from here, I’ll be rooting for you.