During the first days of UCF football’s spring practices, defensive coordinator Travis Williams noticed both old and new leaders stepping up.
“You have a nucleus of guys that’s trying to take the bull by the horns and lead the right way,” Williams said in a press conference on Thursday. “We’re looking for leaders that are speaking the language that we’re speaking, that want to win championships and are going to lead you in the right direction.”
Williams named a lengthy list of defensive players who have emerged as leaders so far. That list included fifth-year defensive tackle Anthony Montalvo, junior defensive end Josh Celiscar, senior linebacker Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste and junior cornerback Davonte Brown.
Another player was redshirt junior defensive tackle Ricky Barber, who transferred to UCF from Western Kentucky in April 2021.
Barber said he is looking to take on a more active role in leading the Knights this season.
“Younger me, you know, I was always being the leader from the back,” Barber said in a press conference on Thursday. “I wasn’t really the vocal guy, but now it’s my challenge for spring to become the vocal guy.”
The Knights are looking to young players to fill a leadership void left by departing veterans, such as offensive lineman Cole Schneider and linebacker Tatum Bethune.
“It’s just one of those things where, if you’re a new guy stepping up, you gotta be on the ball, you gotta be in your playbook, you gotta understand, you gotta make sure the offense moves as fluidly as it did when a guy like that, a guy like Cole is in there, ”fifth-year offensive lineman Samuel Jackson said in a press conference on Thursday. “Which, obviously, is not an easy thing to do. It’s all about what do they want to do, what type of player do they want to be, and then just them stepping up. “
Some Knights said they feel that they have the players they need to fill the hole left by those departing. Jackson said redshirt sophomore Paul Rubelt, fifth-year Ryan Swoboda and redshirt senior Tylan Grable, the latter two transferring to UCF this season, are players in his position group who have stepped up so far.
“I expect all those guys, you know, to be better than I was,” Jackson said.
On the defensive side, Barber said that redshirt junior defensive tackle Keenan Hester has taken “a big step” toward becoming a leader this spring.
Alongside the players stepping up on and off the field, coaches want to be leaders first and foremost as well. Williams said that coaching players to be the best they can is the most important part of the job to him.
“My job is, man, make sure those jokers get to the ball, make sure they’re getting to the ball with bad intentions, making sure we have mental and physical toughness,” Williams said. “Those things right there, that’s my job description.”