From Knights to Kings

Inside the UCF Knights’ journey from zero wins to
2017 College Football
National Champions.

For the Knights, 2017 represented a triumph of reinvention. Rising from worst to first through a gamut of new coaches, a new system and new expectations, the team banded together to ascend from the depths of a disastrous 0-12 season in 2015 to achieve a perfect record in a remarkable two years. But it wasn’t a miracle. According to seniors, the incredible transformation was the result of hard work, belief and brotherhood — plus a dose of redemption. If you ask them, 2017 was “our chance to show ’em.”

King’s Court

Jordan Akins

#88 Jordan Akins ’17

Position:
Tight end
Hometown:
Atlanta
Degree:
Human communication
Jordan Akins

#66 Aaron Evans ’16

Position:
Offensive lineman
Hometown:
Seffner, Florida
Degree:
Management
Jordan Akins

#15 Jordan Franks

Position:
Tight end
Hometown:
Wakulla, Florida
Degree:
Integrated business
Jordan Akins

#93 Tony Guerad ’17

Position:
Defensive lineman
Hometown:
Tampa, Florida
Degree:
Interdisciplinary studies
Jordan Akins

#49 Seyvon Lowry ’17

Position:
Defensive lineman
Hometown:
Jacksonville, Florida
Degree:
Interdisciplinary studies

Looking up from the bottom

“I hate remembering the 0-12 season, but it was a learning experience. We just had to keep on going. It helped all of us who were on that team that season. We know how it felt to lose every game. It was a big factor in winning every game this season.” — Tony Guerad

“When I came in as a freshman [in 2014], everyone looked after each other. The veterans taught the rookies. [The 2015 season] was different. A lot of us had to step up and fill big shoes to keep the UCF legacy going.” — Jordan Akins

“[The 2015 season] was heartbreaking. I remember after every game it was like a little bit of you died because you worked hard all week to prepare, and it just fell apart in front of you. It was embarrassing and frustrating. … It just was the perfect storm that year.” — Aaron Evans

Rebuilding a program

“During the coach hiring process [in late 2015], they actually got a group of team leaders together and the new athletic director, Danny White, came in and asked us, ‘What are you looking for in a coach?’ He showed us all the coaching recruits and we said what we liked and disliked about each one.” — Jordan Franks

“Learning a new system was a little frustrating at first, but then that stuff started clicking because the coaches created an environment of consistency. It was night and day from the year before. I really think that’s when the turning point was — when things started to come together.” — Evans

“When [Coach Scott] Frost came in, it was pretty much a clean slate. Whatever problems you had last season, they were over. You knew it was time to make new changes for the good.” — Seyvon Lowry

UCF Knights 2017 Football Peach Bowl Champions

Building a brotherhood

“Losing every game in 2015 brought us closer together. We didn’t want to go through that again, so we came together stronger and did more things with each other. We went bowling, we ate together, and we did little things that really mattered. It definitely increased our relationships with younger players. We tried to teach them how to build character by being leaders and setting great examples. Doing it the UCF way, man. Rising and conquering in everything that you do — classroom, family, on the field, and getting that extra work in.” — Akins

“This unit of offensive linemen was the first group of guys that I genuinely cared about in my entire football career since I was 7 years old. I call them up to hang out. Before I wouldn’t do that, but now these guys I declare as my brothers. It makes your job a lot easier because you trust one another. You respect one another, and you know that the guy to your left and the guy to your right have your best interest at heart. You know that he’s going to give 100 percent of himself to the mission, and he knows that I’m going to do the same for him.” — Evans

“For a football team, you have to have a sense of brotherhood. You have to understand that everybody’s different, but you have to make them understand the same objective. And that’s what brings you closer. … You’re playing for your team, not just for yourself. … To me, that’s the best feeling about the whole thing, win or lose.” — Franks

“We got so much closer as a team over the past two years, compared to the 0-12 season when it seemed like no one really clicked well and we didn’t do things together. I feel like it’s the tightest group I’ve been a part of in a long time. And we played like it.” — Lowry

“We’re a brotherhood. That bond, that’s something strong. Nobody can take that away from us. We all love each other. When we’re out on that field, it’s just us.” — Guerad

UCF Knights 2017 Football Peach Bowl Champions

Putting it all together

“We really wanted to shock the world, man. Before the season, I told the media that we can go undefeated if we stay focused and everyone buys into this process. By the end of the season, we were undefeated. … I guess we had to go out and have a season like we had just to earn respect.” — Akins

“We wanted to prove that we deserved to be recognized, especially in our conference and in the nation. Then we started winning — boom, boom, boom. We were the top offense in the nation, and we weren’t getting recognized in the top 25 polls. Coach Frost just kept telling us, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s gonna work out for you.’ So we kept on grinding with the underdog mentality the whole season.” — Franks

“We all had the same goal. We wanted it so bad that we could taste it. We dreamed it. We brought it to every process. We woke up every morning focused absolutely on football. We breathed football, we slept it and we studied our film. We did everything we had to do to be successful. Once we got on the field, there was no doubt in our minds that we could beat anyone.” — Akins

“Adversity is what tests a team, so when we won games that had adversity, I knew we had something special. I knew that we’d grown as leaders and as a team because we wouldn’t have been able to do that the year before.” — Evans

“This season was the most fun I’ve ever had on the football field. We knew what we were going to do. We were well-prepared, and we loved to play the game. We’d play fast, play strong, and we’d execute. And we always came out on top.” — Akins

Winning rivalry week versus USF

“There’s usually more on the line when we play South Florida. There is something about that game that just gets people riled up.” — Lowry

“The USF game was absolutely crazy. Looking up in the crowd, the light from the cell phones and the energy just was wild. It definitely made you play harder. And when you made a play, you felt like you were on top of the world.” — Akins

“It was so loud at the USF game. I remember just taking a lot of mental snapshots of that moment. What a cool experience.” — Evans

“One moment I remember I just looked up in the stands and thought, ‘This is crazy.’ I was just blessed and thanking God that I was there. The fans were going crazy. Without them, I don’t know what would have happened because they were a big part of that win too.” — Guerad

Finishing the season strong versus Memphis

“We beat [Memphis] once, we could do it again. I knew that it wouldn’t be easy the second time. They had a really great season after us. I just remember thinking, ‘If we just come together and play as a team, we’ll have success.’ Honestly that’s what we did, and that game was very intense.” — Evans

“That game was so crazy. We just had to stick it out and grind. Tre Neal came up with that big interception at the end. I was really happy for him. That was a big moment for him.” — Guerad

Taking the national stage at the Peach Bowl

UCF Knights 2017 Football Peach Bowl Champions

“You step on that field, and the adrenaline just starts to rush. We could hear the fans roaring. We felt the energy. It was with us the whole time. They supported us to the max. It was just a whole different mentality. I absolutely felt like I was playing in the NFL.” — Akins

“I was really happy to be in Atlanta. They took good care of us. They fed us everywhere we went. The College Football Hall of Fame was probably one of my favorite parts. I liked learning the history behind it all.” — Guerad

“All men bleed. That was my mindset. Obviously, there was a little bit of intimidation. I think it would have been stupid to not acknowledge the hype. But when we started really breaking down their film, we realized they’re just players like us. They make as many technical errors as we do. They get tired. They’re big lumbering guys, but they don’t have the speed to keep up. As the weeks progressed, we started building this quiet confidence. And when we finally interacted with them, we were like, ‘OK, we got this.'” — Evans

“That was a big stadium and most of it was full of UCF fans. I think my favorite part was when people turned the lights on their phones and waved them around. There were flashes of light all around the stadium. It was a beautiful sight.” — Lowry

Celebrating Knight Nation

“Fan support is vital. It lights a fire under us when we see a full stadium. I think the men play for themselves, but at the same time they play for the fans. It’s really just great to see when you have a good turnout, and your hard work is getting acknowledged by the fan base.” — Evans

“We feed off the energy of the fans, and we need them. Without them, we aren’t going to play as well. I would tell the fans that next year they should go to every game because UCF is going to be great again. We have some young players that really stepped up this year. They’re only gonna do more damage next year.” — Guerad

UCF Knights 2017 Football Peach Bowl Champions

Completing the circle

“I remember at the Walt Disney World parade looking at some of the guys who had been around for all of this and thinking, ‘This is wild. We went full circle.’ We went to the peak, down into the lowest valley and back to the highest peak again. It was surreal, and an honor — just awesome.” — Evans

“Every team’s going to have their downfalls, but UCF is making a 360-degree turnaround. We’re going to bring multiple championships to this university. Our young kids are definitely going to carry on this legacy. Support them, no matter what. Buy some tickets. Come to the games. We would love for every game at the Bounce House to be like it was at the Peach Bowl.” — Akins

“The spirit of this season will continue. It’s going to be different, but I think this great new coaching staff is up to the task, honestly. I’ve already heard good reviews from the guys, so I’m excited about it.” — Evans

“It’s going to be very weird because I’ve never been able to actually sit down and watch as a fan. I’m going to want to put on the pads so bad to help the team win. I don’t feel like a fan yet, I still feel like part of the team.” — Lowry

“I tell the underclassmen to just keep grinding. Keep doing what we’ve been doing. Everybody’s got to stick together. Even when it feels like it’s about to fall apart, trust the process. They’ve got some good coaches coming in. I met with coach Heupel, and he was really cool. He told the older guys, ‘This is home for y’all. Come back whenever you want.’ They’ve got some good coaches coming in so they’re gonna be good this year again. … It’s gonna be really exciting because I’m gonna be on the sideline rooting for UCF.” — Guerad