It is the nature of college football to have attrition. Traditionally, there are three reasons a player leaves: Graduation, transfer, or leaving for the NFL. This year added a fourth reason: Opting out due to COVID-19 concerns. UCF was solidly hit as ten players, including defensive starters defensive back Tay Gowans, and lineman Kalia Davis, opted out of the 2020 season.
As the 2019 season came to a close with a win in the Bad Boys Mowers Gasparilla Bowl over former Conference USA rival Marshall, and before COVID-19 became a game changer, the UCF Knights knew they were in need of new defensive leadership. With linebacker Nate Evans going the way of graduation, who is going to step up?
The defensive line took a big hit with Kalia Davis opting out. The defensive tackle had 27 tackles with eight for loss and three sacks in 2019. Filling in for him could be redshirt senior Noah Hancock or redshirt junior Anthony Montalvo. Covering the other defensive tackle spot will be senior redshirt Kenny Turnier. Expectations are high for the outspoken honorable mention All-AAC lineman. Turnier was seventh in tackles last year with 42 and led the team with 13.5 tackles for loss. UCF excelled at tackles for loss in 2019, so it helps bringing back your statistical leader. At the defensive ends are junior Randy Charlton and sophomore Tre’mon Morris-Brash. Charlton has been on the field plenty in this first two seasons with the Knights and Morris-Brash really exploded later in his freshman season.
UCF predominately runs a Nickel defense, which ends up being a 4-2-5 format. That’s four defensive linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs. This means there is a lot of pressure on the linebackers. Not only do they have to cover the interior of the field, they are the first line of defense if the defensive ends fail to contain the outside. Charlton and Morris-Brash are excellent tacklers, but the demand on the linebackers will still be high. The linebacker unit will be lead by the “Erics”. We have redshirt senior Eric Mitchell and junior Eriq Gilyard.
Oddly enough, both Mitchell and Gilyard each had 77 tackles last season. Mitchell had the advantage by adding 11 tackles for loss and three sacks. Mitchell was able to have a strong presence in the Gasparilla Bowl and as a redshirt senior, is expected to have the maturity and leadership to carry the defense. Mitchell understands the expectations though. When asked about who the leader is and if he can be that guy, he said, “Of course, I’m the leader, in the humblest way. ... With me being the senior, I’ll say I take a huge place in all that, in that leader role.”
To help keep players focused, Mitchell, along with Turnier, and defensive back Richie Grant, started group chats within their positions groups. The objective? “Just making sure everybody is still staying active, making sure everybody is still good, making sure everybody’s family is good. Just checking in on each other.”
That’s a leader.