NEWPORT, R.I. — For a guy on middle age's fringe, UCF coach Scott Frost has some weightroom cred. The former Nebraska quarterback's power-sweep days may be over, but his power-clean days aren't.
Just ask his players. Nose guard Jamiyus Pittman says Frost, 42, can bench press 300 pounds, easily. Linebacker Shaquem Griffin says his coach "has still got it." Left tackle Aaron Evans says Frost was seen power-cleaning 245 pounds "just willy-nilly" shortly after his arrival from Oregon.
"If he was on the team, he'd be like, one of the top five strongest," Pittman said.
Yet for all of Frost's free-weight robustness, the most impressive lift of his 19-month tenure in Orlando may have involved the weight he hoisted from the Knights' collective shoulders. By many accounts, it was an overbearing mass of confinement and restrictions from the George O'Leary era.
Under Frost's predecessor, the Knights say they weren't allowed facial hair, or hair below the collar. Players were required to arrive at everything 30 minutes early. During mealtime, seniors ate first, followed by juniors and so on.
"What could we do?" Pittman asked rhetorically.
Hence the reason Frost's arrival was viewed as a liberation of sorts. Though equipped with his own philosophy on discipline and accountability (gleaned from mentors such as Tom Osborne, Tony Dungy and Bill Parcells), Frost allowed the Knights to — literally and figuratively — let their hair down.
"With O'Leary, it was just like, uptight," senior tight end Jordan Akins said.
"You had to have your hair a certain way … couldn't have no wristbands on the field, there were a lot of strict rules. Frost came in, he just was like, you can relax, you can breathe, you can swag on the field. … That's what sold me."
The results have been undeniable.
In Frost's first season, the Knights improved from 0-12 to 6-7, earning a Cure Bowl bid. His 2017 signing class was ranked the American Athletic Conference's best by 247Sports. On Tuesday, UCF was picked to finish second in the AAC East — behind interstate rival USF —in the conference's preseason media poll.
While Frost said he doesn't specifically recall the message Akins attributes to him, he admits inheriting what appeared to him a "high-stress environment" at UCF.
"And that's fine; every program operates differently," said Frost, who was married in March 2016 (he and wife, Ashley, are expecting their first child this fall).
"But I think those guys were hungry for an environment where they could just have fun, play football, play the game they love and try to compete. And our staff did a great job of creating that environment for them, and I think a lot of guys flourished in it."
Peruse the Knights' latest media guide and you come across beards, dreads (see Griffin), even smiles. Frost, whose mother threw the discus in the 1968 Olympics and coached her son in the pentathlon, regularly does post-practice sprints with his players. He even has been known to join them for pickup basketball games.
"He's a players' coach," Evans said. "He's down to earth, he has experience playing and tries to relate as much as possible without blurring the line too much between friend and coach."
The line should be especially distinct this preseason. Frost subscribes to the belief that it's easier to get from 0-12 to 6-6 than it is to climb from 6-6 to 9-3. There are areas to rebuild on defense (only four starters return) and things to refine on offense (nine starters return).
What's more, the first month of the season includes home games against West Division favorite Memphis and Georgia Tech, and a trip to Maryland. At least Frost and his players will do the heavy lifting together. Swag and all.
"If you mess up, he'll get you," Pittman said. "But as far as behind the scenes, he's a cool coach. I don't mind talking to him about anything."
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.