Already one of UCF’s best blockers and its strongest player – he bench-pressed 530 pounds and lifted 225 pounds an incredible 38 times – Adam Nissley has added another facet to his game this season.
And Nissley’s growth as a dependable and clutch pass-catching tight end has been vital to a UCF offense that is short on size and experience at the wide receiver position.
Here’s all you need to know about Nissley’s immense growth as a receiver this season: By halftime of last Saturday’s 17-10 loss to FIU, Nissley had already surpassed last season’s total of six catches for 59 yards. Through three games, the tight end who came into the year with just 17 career catches is tops among UCF players with 140 receiving yards and he’s second in catches with nine. Six of his receptions have gone for first downs and the 6-foot-6, 267-pounder is averaging 15.6 yards a catch.
“I knew I had to tighten up some areas of running routes, my speed, quickness and catching balls. I think it’s all paying off for me now,” Nissley said. “I’m pleased I’ve gotten better, but I’m even more pleased to be able to help this offense out. I had four receptions Saturday night and I didn’t even know it until after the game. We were just trying to move the ball and sustain some drives. (Quarterback) Jeff (Godfrey) made some good plays and for me it’s just a matter of hard work paying off.”
Nissley, one of the unquestioned leaders of the Knights, is hoping that a week of hard work will help UCF (2-1) bounce back from last week’s disappointment on Friday night against BYU (1-2). The nationally televised game by ESPN kicks off just after 8 p.m. and gives the Knights the perfect stage to prove that they are still a special team. As a senior, Nissley has done plenty of talking to UCF’s younger players this week, preaching to them the need to stick together and play better on Friday.
“This is definitely when my experience comes into play and I’m able to help out the younger players. We’ve been in this situation before and lost football games before. It’s important to be a leader, get back to work and get back to winning,” Nissley said. “Last week is last week and there’s nothing we can do about it. We just have to put our heads forward and try to beat BYU.”
One way to do that will be to attack the defense down the field. Godfrey was under constant pressure last week against FIU, and for the most part had to settle for underneath routes and slants. The Knights have yet to throw a touchdown pass in three games. While UCF head coach George O’Leary is delighted that Nissley has blossomed into a steady receiver on mostly short passes, he wants Godfrey looking for big plays more down the field.
“I’m happy for Nissley, but I’m not happy that the other receivers aren’t getting it. He’s great on catching the ball and blocking, but we need to be getting the ball to the guys who can catch it and get with it,” O’Leary said. “Nissley is catching balls on a lot of key downs for us. He’s a big target at 6-5, but Jeff needs to get the ball down the field because he’s waiting too long.”
Nissley, a Cumming, Ga., native, has had to wait a long time to become a factor in the UCF passing game. Because he’s so strong and such a good blocker, he was once moved to tackle during his freshman season. He was converted back to tight end and showed his massive promise by catching 10 passes for 159 yards. He didn’t figure so much into the passing game, but formed a dominant right side of the line alongside Nick Pieschel and Jah Reid, now a member of the Baltimore Ravens after being a third-round pick in the NFL Draft.
Nissley, too, could become a high-round draft pick because of his off-the-charts strength, speed and size for a tight end. He’s routinely compared his strength and speed numbers to those of the tight ends at the NFL Combine in the spring, and they have matched up favorably.
The missing piece, it seemed, was Nissley being a factor in the passing game. He worked hard over the summer to improve, catching hundreds of passes a week while also trying to be a better route runner.
“In the past he was inconsistent in his catching and not very detailed in his route running. But he made a conscious effort since the spring and summer to get better,” UCF offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said. “I knew that with us not having as much depth at receiver that particularly early on it would be important for our tight ends and backs to get more involved. Adam has done a nice job. He’s made some big plays and made key first downs. He’s keeping them honest when they double team the receivers and play Cover 2. He’s doing a very good job.”
With smallish receivers Quincy McDuffie (5-10), A.J. Guyton (5-11) and Khymest Williams (5-10) on the outside, the 6-foot-6 Nissley has been a big target for Godfrey, especially on third down. Still, he’s taken plenty of grief from his teammates for letting smaller defensive backs bring him down in the open field, especially following his 45-yard catch in the season-opening rout of Charleston Southern.
Now, Nissley is hoping that his first touchdown catch of the season comes on Friday night against BYU. More importantly, he hopes that the Knights can bounce back from an uncharacteristic loss in which they were their own worst enemies with penalties and turnovers.
“They have to cover everybody on our offense and not just jump out there on the receivers. That’s something that our offense is able to do, get the ball out to every position,” Nissley said. “Jeff being more mature and being able to see other options besides just one receiver is something that he’s really improved upon. So we just want to keep building on that and get better.”