Already as a true freshman, Jeff Godfrey has broken numerous records and taken UCF’s football program to heights never before reached, shocking many because of his knack for playing the quarterback position and a maturity beyond his years.
But the two people behind the teenager’s quick ascent to prominence – Jeff himself and his father Jeffrey Sr. – have always believed this would be his destiny.
From the time Jeff was five years old and wanting to be a quarterback up until his sophomore season in high school, Jeffrey was his unofficial quarterback coach. Jeffrey knows a thing or two about the position, having starred at quarterback at Miami’s Jackson High School in the 1980s. And he used some unique techniques to develop Jeff from a child prodigy to a high school star to now The Big Man on Campus at UCF.
Jeffrey and Jeff, father and son, would often stay at the park until darkness filled the air, throwing the football into old tires and garbage cans. They would take trips to the beach – not to swim in the ocean or frolic in the sun – but to do footwork drills in the deep sand. Jeffrey would stand behind his son and swipe at Jeff as he simulated dropping back to teach him poise in the pocket. And the father would hold a stopwatch in his hand that would buzz after a few seconds, letting his son know that he had to get rid of the football quickly.
“The work that Jeff put into it told me that he really wanted to be a quarterback. He would tell me every day that he wanted to be a quarterback, and at first I didn’t think anything of it. But at the age of eight he was already throwing the ball 30 yards,” Jeffrey Sr. said from his home in Miami. “I’d watch him play and then we’d talk about it and I was basically his quarterback coach the whole time. We’d stay after practice a good hour-and-a-half or two hours working on his touch, his check-down throws and working on his drop steps. I’d say it worked out pretty well.”
UCF fans would certainly agree that Godfrey has worked out well. He has UCF at 7-2 overall, 5-0 in Conference USA play and ranked nationally in the top-25 for the first time in school history. Since taking over as UCF’s starter seven games ago, he’s already set UCF records for rushing yards as a quarterback (499) and rushing TDs as a freshman quarterback (six). Just last week, when he gashed Houston for 105 rushing yards and another 294 passing yards, he showed that he is getting better as the season progresses.
To Godfrey, who has overcome the doubts about his size (5-foot-11, 182 pounds), he is doing exactly what he always thought he would do – play major college football as a quarterback. Some college coaches – namely Miami’s Randy Shannon — wanted him to switch to wide receiver or defensive back, but Godfrey knew playing quarterback was his destiny. After all, this is what he’s spent his entire life working for.
“I feel like I was meant to play quarterback,” said Godfrey, who has accounted for 1,799 yards and 12 touchdowns this season on the ground and through the air. “My dad has been teaching me to play quarterback my whole life, and I’ve never played another position. I’m just so happy that UCF gave me the chance to play quarterback and not anywhere else. This is what I’m here to do, and I feel like I’m doing a great job with it.”
Is he ever? He already has two of the most efficient games in all of college football this season, and his 152.14 passer rating leads all true freshmen in the country. He’s already earned raves from UCF head coach George O’Leary, veteran offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe and opposing defenses he’s left in his wake. Even UCF great Daunte Culpepper – who is seeing many of his freshman records fall to Godfrey – has gushed about the quarterback.
“I’m OK with (Godfrey breaking records) and I hope that he does. Records are made to be broken and if he’s doing what he’s supposed to do he’ll break them,” said Culpepper, who set more than 30 school records during his time at UCF. “I told (Godfrey) to keep working. I think he’s a great specimen and he’s going to open a lot of eyes around here. He’s definitely the type of guy who could get other big recruits here and help build the program. He’s that type of player.”
That’s something that UCF assistant head coach David Kelly noticed years ago when Godfrey was an eighth-grader playing Optimist League football and opening eyes with his abilities as a quarterback. Just slightly more than 100 pounds at the time, Godfrey led his Little League squad to a National Championship game and crowds of 5,000 or more would regularly turn out to watch him fling the football all over the field.
Kelly, UCF’s ace recruiter in South Florida, went against the grain when he projected Godfrey as a quarterback at the college level and not a wide receiver or defensive back. Kelly made a vow to himself several years ago that Godfrey would someday play quarterback at UCF if he had anything to say about it.
“There are few people who are blessed with certain things that others don’t have and he just has it,” Kelly said recently. “That man from the eighth grade on has shown that. From the time when he was three years old when his dad first started training him, he happens to be a quarterback who is a great athlete, not a great athlete trying to be a quarterback. At seven years old in Pop Warner League, he’s been accustomed to playing and being `The Guy’ in front of 10-15,000 people. So when you talk about pressure, that means nothing to this kid.”
The mention of Godfrey’s development as a quarterback and his poise under fire brings a big smile to the face of Jeffrey Sr. But hearing compliments about his son is nothing new to the proud papa these days. Seemingly everywhere he goes in Miami, Godfrey is approached by football fans who have watched UCF win on ESPN and they rave about his kid quarterback.
“It’s nerve-wracking for me to watch, just wishing he doesn’t make any mistakes. But watching him do stuff that I have been teaching him his whole life just brings a smile to my face,” said Jeffrey Sr., who works at Baptist Hospital in Miami. “Then, when I go to work the next day, people will tell me, `Man, your kid is for real and the real deal.’ And then they’ll ask me, `Why didn’t (Miami coach) Randy Shannon get him?’ I just have to tell them that he didn’t want to change positions and wanted to stay at quarterback. I think he made the right decision.”
And there were several right decisions made by Godfrey along the way. Jeffrey Sr. said because his son was always a student of the game, he isn’t surprised that he developed so quickly at UCF. He became Miami-Dade County’s all-time leading passer at Miami Central High School with 7,251 yards, and has made the transition to college football look somewhat easy.
“Every week it’s a growth process and we’re starting to take the training wheels off because he has such a great grasp of our offense. And really, to be honest, he’s gotten it much faster than I anticipated,” said Taaffe, UCF’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons. “He’s just not playing like a freshman. He’s demonstrating a lot of poise and his decision-making is very good. And he just has an uncanny ability to make plays when things break down.”
Some of that success, of course, can be attributed to the work between father and son. They would often watch films of his high school games until 2 o’clock in the morning, and they still do so now following some UCF games. Jeffrey said his son was reading defenses by the seventh grade and changing plays at the line by the eighth grade. And even when he sees his son scanning defenses now at UCF, Jeffrey Sr. sits back and smiles because he knows his son is looking for weaknesses to attack.
“Jeff has a piece of paper in his room that says, `Stay humble.’ That’s always been our focus,” Jeffrey Sr. said. “I’d tell him if (former starter Rob Calabrese) ever goes down, you are the next man. Stay humble and be ready. What he’s done really hasn’t shocked me because I know what he can do. I knew he can step in and be a leader at any team.”
Jeffrey Sr. said he got the ultimate compliment recently when O’Leary called him and praised him for the son that he had raised and also for the work that he had done with Jeff as a quarterback. It almost equaled the joy that he feels each time he sees his son step under center, drop back to pass and fire a strike down the field. Clearly, the son has made the dad proud.
“Seeing Jeff out there brings tears to my eyes, having a son playing college football,” Jeffrey Sr. said. “I told my wife that not a lot of people get a chance to play college football and we hope someday to see him in the NFL, too. It just brings a lot of tears to our eyes and joy watching him play.”
John Denton’s Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at [email protected]