Here’s the skinny (and the not-so-skinny) of things at defensive tackle for UCF: Sophomore Jose Jose has worked tirelessly before, after and during practices to shed 38 pounds, while sophomore Victor Gray has done the same to put on 47 pounds of added weight.
Needless to say, the two of them haven’t been on speaking terms too much as they worked simultaneously to shed and add weight to their massive 6-foot-4 frames.
“(Gray) is holding the point better at the (tackle position). We have more depth inside at tackle,” UCF coach George O’Leary said. “We got Jose down to a svelte 345 pounds after showing up (in the spring) at 383. He’s done a good job of doing the right things and doing the extra running.”
When Gray arrived on campus two-plus years ago, he was a 220-pounder used to hunting down quarterbacks as a speed rusher off the end. But UCF’s coaches decided that his quickness would be beneficial on the inside and that his big-shouldered frame could carry more weight.
Now entering his redshirt sophomore season, Gray tips the scales at 267 pounds – a 47-pound increase over his prep playing weight at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando. Adding that weight – especially as he sweats away the pounds in the sweltering heat of training camp – has not been easy, so Gray had to make some major adjustments to his dining habits.
Major adjustments as in eating a whopping eight meals a day. Because he loves grits, he would often eat eggs, sausage and grits three times a day. And after practice, he usually cooked either steak or fried pork chops to down with a hearty helping of potatoes. And as Gray added, he always mixed in a vegetable because his mother, Florence Gamble, always taught him he had to have something green on his plate.
“At first I was scared about it because I was afraid I’d get fat and not be able to move and be all sluggish, but it’s been a blessing in disguise,” Gray said. “I came in at 220 and now I’m up to 267. That’s a big difference. Sometimes I feel a little sluggish, but it’s about getting my mind right and training. Now, I’m able to sustain double-teams a lot better and I’m coming off the ball a lot more powerful.”
And consuming the calories didn’t stop at dinner time for Gray. Each meal was often followed by various snacks throughout the day. Gray said he was forced to eat so much to maintain his weight that he would often take snacks to class or wake in the middle of the night and down a protein shake.
“Every meal was followed by snacks upon snacks. I was bringing snacks to class, snacks in bed and waking up in the middle of the night and snacking,” he said with a laugh. “Women envy me. I think one of my teachers gave me a lower grade because she wishes she had my metabolism. I told her what I was eating and she didn’t like me too much after that.”
Gray, one of the wittiest and brightest players on UCF’s team, was laughing when he talked about women being angry at him because of his ability to eat massive amounts of food without gaining weight.
But Jose’s weight last spring when he reported to UCF was no laughing matter. He enrolled in school last January at 383 pounds and struggled through spring drills because of poor conditioning and lack of stamina. His one mission over the summer was to shed the pounds, and he’s done just that.
While most of the team chowed down on heavy carbohydrate and protein-filled meals after practice, Jose had the discipline to limit himself mainly to salads, vegetables and lean meats. In addition to the dieting, Jose has often stayed after practice for additional sprints and sit-ups in hopes of shedding weight.
The results have been dramatic for Jose, a Miami native. The second-strongest player on the team in terms of bench press power (500-plus pounds), Jose has been able to withstand double-team blocks and clog up the middle for UCF’s defense. He’ll split time at tackle this season with E.J. Dunston, Josh Wofford and Barry Snider. And his improved mobility and strength has allowed him to be on the first-string goal line defense so far in training camp.
The first string is a place that Gray is very familiar with. There were major questions about UCF’s tackle positions prior to last season, especially with Gray expected to replace Torell Troup, a former UCF standout and a second-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills.
But Gray answered those questions last season, appearing in all 14 games, while making 11 starts. He had some of his best performances in the biggest of games, registering six tackles in the Liberty Bowl against Georgia and five tackles (two for losses) against NC State. And Gray was able to use his long arms and quickness to bat down five passes at the line last season.
“I feel like people are looking to me because I made some plays last year and I’ve been around. I have to lead by example and make sure it’s not just monkey see, monkey do,” Gray said. “I take a lot of pride in (his play last season) because you never want to be that guy that everybody says is the weakness. You want to be the strong point and a guy that the team can depend on in crunch time. I take a lot of pride in becoming one of those guys for our team.”
Gray said playing alongside of Jose and seeing the commitment he’s put in to make himself a better player has been inspiring. He feels the Knights defensive tackles are in for a big season, especially considering the way defensive ends Troy Davis and Darius Nall rush the passer and make quarterbacks step up in the pocket.
“I’ve seen a lot of will and determination from Jose because he’s lost the weight that he needed to. Coming in, he was a little (resistant) to losing the weight, but he’s made it a part of his mindset that he wants to be a part of this team and buy in completely to what we’re doing,” Gray said.
“Our ends bring so much pressure around the end, making the quarterback have to step up in the pocket,” Gray continued. “I just feel like single coverage should never be able to stop me. If it happens, shame on me and it’s something I need to work on. I love that our ends are going to get so much pressure and make the quarterbacks come right to me.”