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Knights' mining finds several defensive gems

The class, potentially the strongest in UCF history, features Hillsborough High linebacker Andra Hoston.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2001


Central Florida's defense finally emerged from the shadow of its prolific offense last season.

That emergence continued off the field Wednesday as the Golden Knights landed a bevy of top defensive recruits.

On national signing day, 26 high school players from across the nation signed letters of intent to play for UCF. Add those to the five top recruits already enrolled and preparing for spring drills, and coach Mike Kruczek believes he has the makings of UCF's best recruiting class.

He said that last year, too. But that shows how far UCF has risen in the Division I-A ranks.

"Potentially, this class is a lot stronger than any one we have ever had," Kruczek said. "We have satisfied some major needs in various different segments of our team."

Defense, especially. UCF's top recruit may be Hillsborough linebacker Andra Hoston, who was bound for Auburn before family issues turned the 6-foot-2, 220-pound defender's attention toward his home state.

A host of medical problems afflicting his family and made Hoston realize he could not venture far from those he cares most about.

"There's no question family comes first," said the Class 5A all-state linebacker. "I liked Auburn, but I feel really good about the decision to go to UCF. I have absolutely no regrets about my decision."

Hoston was one of 13 defensive signees, and UCF will need impact players to emerge after graduating four linebackers and losing two key starters.

Sophomore defensive end Don Page made 41 tackles in nine starts, but the All-American from Foley, Ala., quit because he no longer could handle the academic load. Leading tackler Tony Hardman, a linebacker from Clearwater High, left for unstated medical reasons.

Hernando fullback/linebacker Willie "Dee" Brown, another of this area's top recruits, said UCF's offer to let him play two of his best sports was too good to pass up. The Leopards' team MVP and son of former NFL star Jerome Brown made 130 tackles and rushed for 1,030 yards and 14 touchdowns.

But he's also one of the state's top baseball prospects, and Tennessee, Miami, Florida, Florida State and Georgia pulled back because of his desire to play two sports. UCF didn't.

"It was all about where I felt most comfortable," Brown said. "UCF made me feel comfortable right away by how they wanted me to play both baseball and football."

UCF continued signing top offensive line talent from junior colleges. Expected to become key contributors in next season's offense: Mike Mabry, a 6-2, 280-pound center from Southwest Mississippi Community College; Alex Mendez, a 6-6, 305-pound tackle from Reedley (Calif.) Community College; and 6-4, 272-pound guard Johnovan Morgan, a 6-4, 272-pound guard from Miami by way of Jones (Miss.) Community College.

"It's probably the best year we've had recruiting the offensive line," UCF recruiting coordinator Scott Fountain said. "We have brought in some real quality junior college kids who will help us right away."

-- Staff writers Brant James and Scott Purks contributed to this report.

Central Florida signees

(Name, pos., ht., wt., high school/college)

*Terrance Bell -- CB -- 6-1 -190 -PBG Dwyer/Dodge City (Kan.) CC

Lemec Bernard -LB -6-0 -190 -Fort Myers Bishop Verot

*Tyewan Brown -OL -6-5 -300 -Miami Edison

Willie "Dee" Brown -FB/LB-5-11 -- 238 -- Hernando

Adam Butcher -C -6-3 -285 -- Admiral Farragut

Paul Carrington -- DL -6-6 -235 -Effingham Co. (Springfield, Ga.)

Marcus Clemons -TE -6-5 -- 270 -Titusville Astronaut

James Cody -S -6-1 -210 -Naples/Butler (Kan.) CC

James Cook -LB -6-3 -210 -Jacksonville Trinity Christian

*Andreal Curry -RB -6-0 -230 -Titusville Astronaut

*Doug Gabriel -WR -6-3 -210 -Orlando Dr. Phillips/Miss. G. C. CC

Jeff Harper -- T -6-8 -305 -Palm Bay

Andrew Harris -QB -6-2 -215 -- Northeast

Andra Hoston -- LB -6-2 -220 -- Hillsborough

Rashad Jeanty -DE -6-3 -- 220 -- Miami Carol City

Darcy Johnson -TE -6-6 -220 -Palatka

Omar Laurence -CB -5-11 -- 175 -- Largo

Matt Lundy -TE -6-51/2 -- 230 -Orlando Cypress Creek

Mike Lynche -NG -- 6-0 -260 -Gibbs

Mike Mabry -- C -6-2 -280 -Dayton (Texas)/SW Mississippi CC

Alex Mendez -- T -6-6 -- 305 -Selma (Calif.)/Reedley (Calif.) CC

Johnovan Morgan -- G -6-4 -- 272 -Miami/Jones (Miss.) CC

Al Peterson -WR -6-2 -192 -Alachua Sante Fe

Stanford Rhule -LB -5-11 -- 230 -Ft. Lauderdale Dillard

Peter Sands -S -- 6-2 -- 190 -Titusville Astronaut

Brandon Sumner -- QB -6-0 -185 -Daytona Beach Mainland/G. Tech

Lamont Stringfield -- LB -6-0 -225 -Miami Jackson

Craig Waters -DE -- 6-5 -200 -Titusville Astronaut

Keith Williams -RB -5-10 -- 190 -Hillsborough

Mico Williams -DE -6-3 -- 220 -- Miami Edison

Kareem Williford -LB -6-1 -211 -Auburndale

* -- Already enrolled at UCF.

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