A winless 2015 football season brought the lowest of the lows to Knight Nation. Fast-forward to New Year’s Day 2018, with the city of Atlanta packed with University of Central Florida fans eager to see if their beloved Knights could continue their winning streak against Auburn in the Chik-fil-A Peach Bowl. It was a fairytale ending as UCF claimed a 34-27 victory over the No. 7 team in the nation at the time.
The week that followed was a whirlwind for the Knights. The Walt Disney World Resort celebrated their perfect season and Peach Bowl win with a parade through the streets of Magic Kingdom as fans cheered on. The following evening, downtown Orlando streets were packed for a “national championship” block party, a title that caused debate among diehard fans and the rest of the country.
“You ask any guy a question and tell them to describe themselves, the first words they’ll say is ‘national championship’ and they deserve it,” linebacker Shaquem Griffin says. “We worked really hard for it. The only thing we can do is win games and we won all of them.”
Sophomore quarterback Mckenzie Milton says it took some time to soak everything in following the team’s inspiring win. He describes the whole experience as “surreal.”
Danny White, the vice president and director of athletics for UCF, considers the team’s quick turnaround from 0-13 to 13-0 as a sign of what’s to come. However, he’s not shy about saying that he didn’t expect that turnaround to happen as quickly as it did.
“Next year was always supposed to be the year when we broke through and had the kind of national success that we’ve had this year,” White says, noting that all of the reasons they thought that would happen are still in play, considering that many players are returning next year and a strong recruiting class is on its way. “We’ll have a lot of talent on the team and Josh Heupel is as good an offensive line as there is in football. His offensive style is very similar to what we’ve been running, so it will be easy for our players to transition to a new scheme.”
While the team had the attention of the entire country, Griffin’s story stood out. Born with amniotic band syndrome, a condition that required his left hand to be amputated when he was four years old, he never let anything hold him back from his football dreams. With 12 tackles and 1.5 sacks, he was named MVP of the Peach Bowl, and now he has a word of advice for anyone who has been told they couldn’t do something.
“You can do whatever you want, no matter if it’s playing football, playing basketball, cheering, running track or just being the best person that you can be,” Griffin says. “The only person that can stop you is the person looking back in the mirror and that’s you.”
The UCF Knights football team surely proved that this season.