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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Florida matchup a golden opportunity for UCF, center
The Golden Knights and their offensive line's anchor have a chance to shine on a big stage.
By IZZY GOULD
Published September 6, 2006
Cedric Gagne-Marcoux has dropped into Florida Field a time or two. He has stood among the rumbling roar of 90,000 fans and witnessed the orange-and-blue wave wipe out opponents with vigor.
Gagne-Marcoux knows what awaits the Golden Knights on Saturday when they travel to No. 7 Florida: Opportunity.
"We haven't beaten a top-10 team," said Gagne-Marcoux, UCF's center. "There's still a few things missing."
The Gators' ranking and status as one of the state's "Big Three" make them a juicy target for programs such as UCF that dream of becoming national powers.
"You only get so many opportunities to play ranked teams," Golden Knights coach George O'Leary said. "We may not play another ranked team this year."
Gagne-Marcoux and his teammates represent pawns in the building process that has been confusing, nauseating, rewarding and enjoyable.
At 6 feet 2, 290 pounds, the French-speaking Canadian is probably thankful he knew only a word or two of English when he arrived in 2002.
UCF was a promising paradise from its lush palm trees to its accessibility to the beaches. Orlando's mild climate beat practicing in 30-degree temperatures and the often snow-covered fields in his hometown of Sherbrooke, Quebec, just east of Montreal.
The Golden Knights, however, had lost their polish.
The program went through a rough patch in 2003 with discipline problems and fell to 3-7 before it fired coach Mike Kruczek. UCF lost its final two games that season before replacing interim coach Alan Gooch with O'Leary.
Gagne-Marcoux had started as a redshirt freshman in 2003 only to miss three games at season's end for what the school called a "violation of team policy." Had he not been benched, he likely would have 37 consecutive starts.
"It was a reality check," Gagne-Marcoux said. "A bunch of us got suspended for documents that didn't get filled out. It was something immature.
"When you come here out of high school and start playing, you tend to think you're above the law. That brought me back down to Earth and told me I'm not above anyone. I'm just a student. You have to act responsibly."
His sophomore season was a fresh start for him and the program under O'Leary, who thought UCF was an undiscovered treasure. They had to dig through an 0-11 season before finding any hint of a reward.
Gagne-Marcoux remembers walking off after one of the final practices that season feeling inspired about the future at UCF.
"We always prepared on the practice field to win," Gagne-Marcoux said. "People were still excited to be out there. They fought through the whole year. I knew there were better days coming for us."
Then came 2005 and a stellar season by Golden Knights' standards. UCF went 8-5, won the Conference USA East Division title and earned its first bowl berth, a spot in the Hawaii Bowl.
Gagne-Marcoux had plenty to do with the success as the anchor of the offensive line and was named to C-USA's first team offense.
Kevin Smith was named C-USA freshman of the year after the running back gained 1,178 yards and nine touchdowns. Quarterback Steven Moffett threw for 2,925 yards, 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Offensive production is one way to tell if Gagne-Marcoux is playing well, UCF offensive line coach Joe Gilbert said .
"The center is usually the quarterback of the O-line, making the calls and setting the point for everything," Gilbert said. "It has to start there. If the offense is successful, that is a reflection that the center is playing well."
Another indicator is inquiries to play beyond college.
Gagne-Marcoux was taken in the Canadian Football League draft in the spring, picked in the first round by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He enters this season on watch lists for the Lombardi Award for the best lineman and the Dave Rimington Trophy for the best center. And he was a preseason All-Conference USA selection.
If the NFL is in his future, he's not talking about it, insisting his focus is on Florida. But it appears UCF's success - and his - will hinge heavily on this season.
"The kid works hard," Gilbert said. "He's been a leader off the field, he works in the weight room and how he studies tape. He has a lunch-pail mentality as far as he'll play banged up. ... His play is going to have to speak for itself this year. If he plays well, the opportunity will be there for him."