Thursday, April 26, 2018
Colleges

Godfrey helps put UCF Knights in position to win

The repetitive dream that kept his spirits buoyed in a hardscrabble existence, the vision of glory he mustered while sharing a bedroom in a Miami project with two brothers, materialized four Fridays ago.

Jeff Godfrey, a quarterback since age 4, finally had that last-gasp, winning touchdown pass on national TV — as a recipient. With a half-minute to play at then-No. 8 Louisville, Blake Bortles found Godfrey in the end zone's right corner for a 2-yard go-ahead score.

"Just knowing that I could make the game-winning catch was amazing," Godfrey, UCF's starting signal-caller in a previous life, said of the Knights' 37-35 upset. "I just want to thank the Lord that I had a chance to come back and do things like that for this team."

Fittingly, this redemptive tale plays out like a curl pattern. Upon losing his job behind center, Godfrey bolted, stopped on a dime, turned back toward Orlando, then improvised.

Which is to say, he came all the way back.

Now a senior, he has emerged as a steady Bortles target (22 catches, 177 yards, four touchdowns) on a team with a BCS bowl in its cross hairs. The No. 19 Knights (6-1, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) host Houston tonight, with the winner assuming sole possession of the league lead.

"You're basically dealt the hand you're dealt with and then you make the most of it," Knights coach George O'Leary said. "And I think he's done that, no question about it."

But he darn near folded at first.

Projected as a college receiver out of Miami Central High because of his 5-foot-11 frame, Godfrey chose UCF because O'Leary pledged to give him a crack at the position he had played since preschool.

"Butch Davis was going to take him as a DB, the University of South Florida wanted him as a quarterback," said USF running backs coach Telly Lockette, Godfrey's coach at Central. "He had the University of Miami at the time; they didn't know whether they wanted him at quarterback or athlete. But the kid wanted to play quarterback."

Thrust into the lineup as a freshman in 2010, he responded by leading UCF to a Conference USA crown and a Liberty Bowl win against Georgia. His final numbers: 2,159 passing yards, 566 rushing yards, 23 total TDs. His completion percentage (66.8) led Division I-A freshmen.

A year later, the Knights finished 5-7, losing seven of their last 10. By season's end, Bortles had supplanted Godfrey on the depth chart, prompting Godfrey to head back home.

"I came very close (to transferring)," said Godfrey, who took classes at Miami Dade College during his semester away. "I had a lot of people in my head telling me to transfer."

He listened to the ones who told him to stick it out. Still disillusioned and confused, Godfrey invited two of the biggest influences of his life for a heart-to-heart over dinner at a Red Lobster.

The advice of Roshanda Spencer and Linda Haynes — mom and grandma, respectively — was coated with far more candor than sugar.

"Both of them told me to go back and finish what I started," Godfrey recalled. "Don't quit on your team and whatever they ask you to do, go out and do."

Upon his return, O'Leary asked him to switch positions, believing his receiver's body and quarterback's mind would allow him to identify holes in defensive zones and exploit them. In 2012, he finished with 39 catches — with at least one in each game — for 429 yards.

"I think the toughest thing (about the conversion) was route running," Godfrey said.

"When I first got to receiver, I tried to rush everything and not take my time on routes. But as soon as I got that, I did a great job of catching the ball, using my speed, and when I got the ball in my hands, making good cuts getting upfield."

Now, another drastic conversion — from college to the NFL — is conceivable. Should Godfrey's planets align at, say, a scouting combine, the position switch could turn out to be the shrewdest business decision of his life.

He has a girlfriend and two children, a 3-year-old girl and 1-year-old boy. While they're in Fort Lauderdale, he'd love nothing more than to get other family members out of the drug-induced bleakness of Overtown, which he describes as "like a third-world country."

"I don't know if he humbled himself as much as he just got his head straight," O'Leary said. "He's a football player. I think we're utilizing his talents as best we can right now. I think he understands that and I think he's really matured."

 
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