ORLANDO, Fla. – UCF was able to identify their quarterback of the foreseeable future last season in Hawaii native McKenzie Milton, and now have cultivated a wide receiving corps with the potential to match his longevity.
Tre’Quan Smith emerged as the clear-cut talent at receiver last year, posting 853 yards and 5 touchdowns on 57 receptions. Day in and out through fall camp both staff and players alike have raved about his “All-American potential”, but the depth that falls behind Smith has been the real topic of discussion over summer.
Cam Stewart, Dredrick Snelson and Tristan Payton’s return to the roster is a comforting thing for young McKenzie Milton, but the trio only accounted for 440 yards and three trips to the end zone. Stewart had 18 catches in 11 starts, serving time as a blocking extraordinaire. Snelson came on toward the end of the season, but needs to prove he can be consistent. Tristan Payton may be the most talented wideout on the roster, but is suspended for the first six games of the season.
There are major roles to define for the freshman coming in.
“We’re going to be young again at some positions, receiver I think we’ve had a lot of freshmen that have come in and done a good job, and I think those guys are going to play,” said Head Coach Scott Frost.
Let’s take a look at some of the new faces in the crowd.
Gabe Davis – Fr. 6-3, 215 lbs
Davis is a true freshman who did not have the luxury of early enrollment during spring ball. By far and large however, he has set himself head-and-shoulders above the crowd this summer. Accounts from every corner of the team say that he is a veteran soul in a young man’s body, always eager to work and improve.
“Gabe is Mr. Steady, man,” explained Offensive Coordinator Troy Walters. “It seems like he’s been here two or three years, because he knows the offense. He does exactly what you coach him to do, what you coach him to do. He’s coachable, he wants to be great, he wants to learn. I can’t wait to see him on Thursday night, because he’s put in the work.”
Coach Frost called Davis a special kind of talent, praising that he was one of the hardest working players on the team. Not of the freshman, but of players.
His rapid ascent to the top of the depth chart is telling of what this staff thinks of their local treasure, earning the respect of McKenzie Milton – who is no stranger to putting in meaningful work as a freshman.
“He’s another guy, he’s a work ethic guy. Since he’s got here in the summer, he’s been a dog. He’s been in the front of every sprint, every lift, everything like that,” said Milton. “It’s not because he’s trying to show off, it’s because of how he is. He’s really a dog, he’s a heck of a player too.”
Otis Anderson – Fr. 5-11, 165 lbs
The case of Otis Anderson is a familiar, if unusual one. Buried in the depth chart as a running back, Otis will catch teams and fans off-guard in the games to come as an unknown; much in the same way that home-run threat Adrian Killins did last season.
“Otis Anderson has been really good for us,” said Frost. “He’s learned the running back spot and the receiver spot, so he gives us another guy that we can move around and try to get the ball to.”
Anderson will line up both at wideout and in the backfield as another x-factor in the playbook, but has a size advantage over the versatile Killins. He is the perfect kind of change-of-pace playmaker for the UCFast system, diverting attention and adding distraction at worst, while potentially creating fatal mismatches at best.
“He’s a tough guy, he gets after it in the run game, he’s just dependable. For a freshman to come in and gain that reputation, that says a lot about the young man,” said Walters about his new toy.
Manny Greene – 5-10, 163 lbs
On the depth chart, the second wide receiver position falls completely to the freshman. First up is Davis, third in the order is Marlon Williams, and second through the rotation will be IMG Academy product Emmanuel Greene.
“Manny Greene had the benefit of spring ball,” said Frost. “He’s got some juice, he can run, he’s done some good things, but needs to keep working on being more consistent.”
Reports out of camp have indicated Green impressed defenders and fellow receivers alike, but will need to prove he can come down with the ball when his number is called if he wishes to pass Davis on the depth chart. Expect Greene to spend time at slot receiver early on.
Marlon Williams – 6-0, 205
Williams is still a work in progress, working to define a true role as one of the freshman standouts. He has the size to make an immediate impact, but falls victim to pecking order and ball distribution.
Remember that McKenzie Milton has penchant for spreading the wealth, and that the UCF goal of rapid-pace offense provides a ton of opportunity – in theory. For the number three wideout at the No. 2 WR slot, Williams will have to have an impressive debut to earn significant playing time in the season’s first half.
He will see the field however, and Coach Frost made it clear that he expects Williams to be a major contributor by season’s end.