In an instant, Calabrese whacked one of the linemen in the helmet, informing him to quiet down as he barked out orders.

Calabrese’s whack wasn’t as significant as his message was: As the quarterback, he’s in charge of the huddle and when he talks players should be listening. It showed a tremendous amount of growth from the often timid player who was one of just four true freshmen in the country to start at quarterback last season.

“It was tough for me last year because I was a true freshman. But now that I know the guys and they know me, I feel like I can take charge and be a leader in the huddle,” Calabrese said. “Taking charge in the huddle that’s something you have to do as a quarterback.”

Among the most noticeable factors to come out of UCF’s preseason drills has been the way that their sophomore quarterback seems all grown up. He’s noticeably bigger, going from 208 pounds a year ago to a ripped 216 pounds now. He’s more comfortable with where he wants to go with the football. And maybe most importantly of all, he’s the type of leader who head coach George O’Leary and new offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe feel can help the UCF offense make significant strides this season.

Calabrese, who appeared in nine games last season, was an ever-present figure around the UCF football headquarters this summer. When he wasn’t working out in the weight room or throwing ball to receivers, he was in the film room dissecting last season’s disappointing 4-8 season. Calabrese watched all 12 games, looking for ways he could improve on his reads and his effectiveness as UCF’s quarterback.

The quarterback’s willingness to study the game caught the eye of O’Leary, who is something of a film critic himself when it comes to breaking down game tapes.

“He’s what I would describe as a gym rat because he’s always around the offices and he’s the type you can’t give him enough information,” O’Leary raved. “You can tell that winning is important to him. He wants to learn and has a coach-me attitude.”

Taaffe monitored and analyzed each of Calabrese’s throws in the spring and throughout the preseason, keeping tabs on his accuracy. He’s seen tremendous growth in his sophomore quarterback because there’s a better awareness now as to how to properly attack opposing defenses.

Said Taaffe: “Rob’s an athletic kid with a big-time arm and now he has a grasp on when and where the ball needs to go. You can’t just drop back and find a guy at this level of football. You have to make the reads, and that’s what he’s doing.”

Calabrese is delighted with Taaffe’s philosophy that UCF should take “at least two shots a quarter” deep down the field to keep defenses honest. Calabrese has more weapons to do just that with Rocky Ross, Kamar Aiken and A.J. Guyton back this season following an injury-plagued 2008 for the receivers.

Calabrese and Aiken burned the defense in last Saturday’s scrimmage, hooking up on a 60-yard bomb when the defense backs had bitten on an underneath route.

“We love hearing, `Take two shots a quarter,'” the quarterback said with a big, toothy smile. “That’s exciting for a quarterback being able to throw the ball down the field.”

Calabrese’s growth and the added weapons around him has many at UCF believing that the offense will make significant strides this season. Calabrese said the dismal performance by the offense last season pushed players through the offseason to be better. He’s confident that UCF’s offense will be a strong suit of the team this year.

“We’re really confident that we’ll be a lot better,” he said. “We’ve gotten so much better in camp and we want to show people how much better we’ll be.”

John Denton’s Knights Insider stories run Monday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail John at