The last time UCF standout quarterback Jeff Godfrey was in a title game of any kind he was 13 years old and his South Florida-based Pop Warner football team made it all the way to the national championship game.
Godfrey could only look on that day as his team’s defense surrendered the go-ahead score in the final seconds. His final heave at the horn was unsuccessful, but celebrities in attendance such as former NFL star Warren Sapp and rapper Luther Campbell sought out Godfrey after the game to congratulate him on a well-played game.
That moment stuck with Godfrey to this day. And now, five years later, Godfrey is relishing the thought of being back in position to win a Conference USA championship with UCF. This time, he vows the result will be vastly different and soon he’ll be wearing a golden championship ring for all to see.
“I’m so excited about being in my first year of college and possibly winning the conference and getting a ring on my finger,” Godfrey said. “That just shows was a great job our team has done getting to this point. We’ve worked all through camp and the season and we’re in a position to make it happen now, so we got to go out and do it.”
Godfrey pretty much accomplished everything he set his mind to this season, winning the starting quarterback job early in the season and taking UCF (9-2 overall and 7-1 in conference play) to the C-USA title game opposite SMU (7-5 and 6-2). He is the nation’s highest rated quarterback in terms of efficiency and his 164.79 passer rating ranks eighth nationally behind the likes of Kellen Moore (Boise State), Cam Newton (Auburn), Ryan Mallett (Arkansas), Scott Tolzien (Wisconsin), Andy Dalton (TCU), Greg McElroy (Alabama) and Andrew Luck (Stanford). To put that in perspective, Newton will likely win the Heisman Trophy, Mallett and Luck are expected to be two of the first players selected in the NFL Draft, McElroy won a national championship last season and Moore, Tolzien and Dalton play on teams ranked 11th, fifth and third in the BCS rankings.
“It’s been because of a great job with the O-line giving me time to make my reads. And the receivers are doing a great job catching the ball,” Godfrey said of his efficiency as a quarterback. “But I’m not satisfied yet. We set a goal to be here in this game and once we win it then I’ll be satisfied. And then it’ll be onto the next game.”
The Knights have felt since spring drills that this season had the potential to be a special one. UCF has its largest senior class during coach George O’Leary’s era on campus and the schedule was a favorable one. But almost to a man, UCF’s players point to the quarterback when they look for reasons why the program is one step away from possibly winning its second league title in four years.
“It’s because of Jeff Godfrey,” stressed senior linebacker Derrick Hallman, UCF’s leading tackler. “I knew if the offense would put up points we’d win a lot of games because of what we had on defense. (Godfrey) was a (second-stringer) back in the spring and he gave our defense headaches all of the time. In scrimmages, he’d scramble and get the first down and it was frustrating. With him back there for us, I knew we’d have a special season.”
Godfrey, a Miami native who was quite possibly UCF’s most prized recruit ever, had riddled defenses this season with both his legs and his arm. He’s run for 529 yards and 10 touchdowns and he could equal Daunte Culpepper’s record of 12 rushing TDs on Saturday. His 67.4 percent completion percentage is close to Kellen Moore’s NCAA record set in 2008, and Godfrey already has two of the most efficient passing days – 245.7 last week against Memphis and 243.6 versus Houston – in school history.
The true freshman’s growth as a quarterback has helped him earn from trust from O’Leary. The veteran head coach marvels at Godfrey’s quick grasp of the offense, his ability to learn from his mistakes and his innate sense to scramble out of a bad play and turn it into a positive.
“I tell you what we probably need to throw the ball a lot more with him in the game,” O’Leary said. “The key to Jeff is that I think it was done right with him. We put a little on the plate each game for him and added it and he retained what we had put on. We kept building the package a little bit to where we didn’t throw out a big plate to him and expect him to know it all. I think the offensive coaches did a good job of not force feeding it but just nurturing him along as the season went through.”
As for Godfrey’s nerves heading into the first championship game of his college career, he said he will treat it just like any other game. As of Wednesday, he said he was expecting to have as many as 17 family members make the trek up from Miami for Saturday’s championship game.
The memories of that championship game from when he was 13 years old are still buried in the back of his mind, and he admitted that he’s thought about that game a time or two this week. Now, he wants to go out and do whatever possible to make sure he’s a champion for the first time by Saturday night.
“I was 13 years old and we lost by a touchdown in the national championship game. I couldn’t get back on the field except for a throw-up pass in the last two seconds. That one hurt,” Godfrey remembered. “And in high school, I never played for a state championship. We fell short all three years and couldn’t get past the state semifinals.
“But this is the big chance for me to get a championship and I’m working very hard to make it happen,” he continued. “SMU is a great team and it’s not going to be easy. No championship game is ever easy. But if we play hard, I think we’ll like the results.”
And if he wins his first championship, what will Godfrey do with his championship ring? Possibly put it away in a safe deposit box or display it in a case?
“I’m definitely wearing it if I get that ring,” he said with a big smile. “But the goal is to go get that win first.”
John Denton’s Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.