UCF had to wait until Thursday for the National Letters of Intents from Willingham, a star linebacker, and Williams, a standout receiver, because of a major snowstorm that hit Denver and the Rocky Mountain area. School at J.K. Mullen was cancelled on Wednesday, while Williams’ NLI had to be sent from Denver to South Florida back to Denver and finally to UCF’s offices because former UCF great and Miami Dolphin Brandon Marshall is the guardian for Williams and his first cousin.
With the four-star signings of Willingham and defensive end Toby Jackson and a deep class composed of 29 athletes, UCF could very well have its finest class in school history. And that’s saying something considering that last February’s class included star quarterback Jeff Godfrey, Jordan and Justin McCray, E.J. Dunston and redshirt standouts Josh Reese and Torrian Wilson and was thought to be the best ever at UCF.
UCF coach George O’Leary, who visited Willingham and Williams personally in Denver last week, said he couldn’t have been happier with the way that Wednesday turned out.
“I thought it was a great day all the way around,” O’Leary said. “It was a great job by the assistant coaches and our players during the recruiting weekend and everything has gone extremely well. I’m ready to end the (recruiting period), move on to spring ball and get ourselves ready for next season.”
Here’s the position-by-position breakdown of the 29 commitments so far: seven defensive linemen, seven linebackers, six defensive backs, five wide receivers, two tight ends, one offensive lineman and one running back.
The unquestioned star of the linebacking corps is Willingham, widely regarded as a four-star prospect who was voted as the Defensive Player of the Year in Colorado. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound linebacker was part of a program that won three straight state championships. In this year’s state championship game, Willingham recorded four sacks. He recorded 156 tackles (36 solo), five sacks, three fumble recoveries and one interception during his senior season.
Willingham, who was recruited primarily by UCF assistant head coach David Kelly, chose UCF over the likes Arizona State, Colorado, Michigan, Texas A&M, Washington, Boise State, Colorado State, Kansas State, Minnesota, Oregon and Utah. He is rated with four stars by Rivals. He is rated No. 13 nationally at outside linebacker by Rivals and the No. 2 overall prospect on its Colorado postseason Top 20. ESPN lists him at No. 23 nationally for inside linebackers.
“I saw him on film and he is a very impressive player on film but even more impressive when you get a chance to sit down and visit with him,” O’Leary said. “He comes from an outstanding high school program. We’re very fortunate to acquire his talent. He’s done a good job in school academically and we’re happy to have him be a part of our program.”
Williams is the first cousin of Marshall, who turned a stellar career as a Knight into an All-Pro spot in the NFL. A teammate of Willingham at Mullen High School, Williams helped his school win 33-consecutive games and three-straight state titles.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound receiver set Colorado’s all-time record with 148 catches. This past season, he snagged 71 balls for 909 yards and eight touchdowns. He is considered to be a three-star prospect by Rivals and ESPN has him rated as the 81st best wide receiver in the country.
Several BCS-affiliated schools were pursuing Williams. But he chose UCF over Miami, Nebraska, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Kansas State, Minnesota, Syracuse, Utah, Vanderbilt and Washington.
“Obviously we knew about Rayshon from his legal guardian Brandon Marshall,” O’Leary said. “Brandon informed us of Rayshon. He was in Florida to begin with so we had an idea of what he was about. I’m very happy to have him in the program and I think that he will be a very productive player in our offensive scheme.”
O’Leary said that the Knights focused mostly on their positional needs instead of just pursuing top athletes, hence UCF’s heavy haul of defensive players. He also discussed how UCF was able to attract stars from out of state, such as Denver, Colo.
“We’ve always been short on the semi-skilled guys, those mid-sized guys at tight end and linebacker, so we needed to bring people in to get us more depth there and on special teams,” O’Leary said. “We need those dual role guys who can help us offensively and defensively. I think we’ve done a good job with that.
The exposure that UCF got from the national TV and bowl games helped with our class. It’s a great testimony to our ability to attract the attention of people out west. Then UCF sells itself once people come on campus and see what’s available to them here.”
John Denton’s Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.