When Scott Frost was hired as UCF’s coach in December 2015, he called each player into his office individually. He asked them what they wanted out of the program and about what they wanted to see changed. They answered.
They just didn’t feel like a team.
Since then, Frost has worked to build not just a winning program, but a winning culture that tries to get the most out of his players in a state where talent is plentiful, but most of it goes elsewhere.
He succeeded in his first season, taking the Knights from an 0-12 mess to a 6-7 upstart that could fight with bigger programs. In Year Two, he wants to move from respectable to juggernaut. And it shows in his players.
A few weeks ago, he brought in a guest speaker, which he tries to do just about every day. But this guest speaker applauded the Knights for going from 0-12 to 6-7 in one offseason.
“It was really quiet in our room,” Frost said. “The guys didn’t like hearing it either. I don’t think the guys are gonna be satisfied with the same level of success they had last year.”
Sophomore running back Jawon Hamilton agreed. A graduate of South Dade High School, he said the team won’t be satisfied with just another winning season. Not with what Frost is building.
“Our goals are definitely higher,” he said. “Everybody on this team is a good football player, so we’re just gonna try and turn this thing around. We’re just working every day to do that.”
That started over the summer, when Hamilton focused on trying to improve his footwork and ball security. He said memories of fumbles last season haunt him, but they also motivate him through his worst moments and encourage him to be a better player by the time UCF hosts FIU in its season opener on Thursday.
“I feel like I’ve got something to prove. Last year wasn’t good enough for me,” he said. “I’m holding myself to a higher standard this year.”
That’s the main message Frost has tried to instill: Be better than yesterday. Be better than you were last month. Be better than you were last season.
He especially wants to see that improvement in the fourth quarter, where he felt his team ran out of Wheaties at times last season. It showed in some final scores: a 30-24 loss to Maryland, a 26-25 loss to Temple and a 31-24 loss to Houston.
“Hopefully, a little more depth across the board on this team will make us a better team in the second half,” he said.
Hamilton said he trusts Frost to make that happen, and that his obsession with improvement is what drew him to the program despite its 0-12 record in 2015. After conducting some research on Frost, he was confident in his ability to rebuild.
“I knew what I was getting myself into by signing with an 0-12 team,” Hamilton said, “but I also knew the potential we had and the things we could do.”
In Year One, that included rising from last in the American Athletic Conference to seventh in scoring offense and from 10th to fourth in total defense.
On offense, Frost said he expects the trend to continue with sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton returning as a much-improved player. He also expects the defense to be disruptive once again based on what he has seen in practice.
“They’re moving and banging and stunting and blitzing and pressuring,” he said of his defensive front. “It makes it hard on our offensive line as they’re trying to learn.”
But that pressure, he said, will only help them later, and that’s the goal, after all: Be better than before.
Résumé: Nebraska graduate assistant, 2002; Kansas State graduate assistant, 2006; Northern Iowa linebackers coach, 2007; 2008 Northern Iowa defensive coordinator/linebackers coach, 2008; Oregon wide receivers coach, 2009-12; Oregon offensive coordinator, 2013-15; UCF coach 2016-present.
▪ Helping the Oregon Ducks to a 59-20 win over Florida State in the College Football Playoff semifinal as offensive coordinator.
▪ Leading UCF from an 0-12 team to a 6-7 record, including a bowl-game appearance, in his first season as coach.
What keeps him up at night: The possibility of regressing after his first-year turnaround.