For UCF, there is much to look forward to in 2024
I have to be completely honest. This is probably my least favorite time of the year. I’ve always struggled with transitions, whether it be a new job, ending a relationship or simply moving apartments. I hate the finality of certain things. While I consider myself a generally optimistic person and look forward to new challenges and experiences, these first few days of the year are often met with disdain by me. I abhor manufactured positivity and “New Year” gusto that populates every facet of these first few weeks of the new year. Change can happen at any moment during any point of the year and one decision can be the butterfly effect moment for an entirely new way of life and perspective. The date on the calendar has no bearing on that.
The close to 2023 was a lot of fun though. Probably my favorite Christmas of my 30s, especially being around younger children with my nephew and niece fully cognizant of the season. The magic they brought to it was endearing and we enjoyed a lot of firsts for them: flew a kite, went camping in the backyard, and started to understand the basic tenets of American football. I had a blast with fellow Son and former colleague Jeff Cassell from the Big 12 Minute taking in the Pop-Tarts Bowl. It was awesome to interact with our Big 12 brethren and enjoy a stellar game on a cool Florida evening we often don’t get to enjoy on the gridiron. New Year’s Eve was spent tucked comfortably underneath my comforter relishing years gone by, Facetiming friends in other parts of the world and laughing at the fervor our 20-something selves would have to don striped Macy’s button-down shirts and blazers with a dozen other friends at midnight raising hell in Downtown Orlando to watch the Orange Ball drop.
I’m writing this to you as I procrastinate finally going through an inbox full of “2023 close the loop” recap emails, and “I hope this message finds you well, happy to e-meet you,” salutations. Yuck, LOL. It’s so sterile and expected. The friend’s group chat is filled to the gills with 2024 motivation reels to “Boss Up” and “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” platitudes that always seem to be amplified this time of year. We all mean well with this renewed hope for a successful year but I just like to get things going again and hit our stride.
Since we lost, bowl games are meaningless by the way.
We need to make it to the Pop-Tarts Bowl next year though; that is non-negotiable.
We move on to a transfer portal season that is hopping for us. We’re filling in positions of need and bolstering depth where we can. Looks like we’ve secured our signal caller for the fall, and it’s weird to head into spring camp with everyone in the UCF fanbase on board with KJ Jefferson as QB1. Our high school signing class is spry with young talent eager to be here and they feel motivated to set the tone for their era.
Football is moving along. We will have the opportunity to see a lot of these young men cook in the spring game for a glimpse of the Gus Bus haul for year four of his tenure. Next season will be one of our most challenging schedules ever, but I feel like we are up to the task and that our expectations have been tempered for Power Four football play. KJ Jefferson, even with a 4-8 overall record in the SEC West at Arkansas last year, beat Billy Napier in the Swamp. Do with that information what you will.
Football season is still a long nine months away though, and I’d like to cover our entire athletics program this coming year, in greater depth beyond just visceral reactions to wins and losses. A lot of great storylines and intrigue building for our first year of league play across campus. I think I’ve made myself clear on where I stand with Johnny Dawkins. No real juice, out-of-conference warrior on Sisters of the Poor teams and substandard in conference play. I understand we haven’t given him any real juice to squeeze as far as resources go, but it looks like we are making strides to secure serviceable talent with the Kingdom crumbs we do have. Is he a lame-duck coach this year in our inaugural year in the Big 12? Who knows. He’s got one more year left of his contract. Let’s see what he can cook and go from there. I think we will develop an appetite for hoops this spring seeing the caliber of teams in our conference and wanting a piece of that. 7-11 in conference play last year was enough to get a Big Dance invite in the Big 12. Let’s not finish last, steal a ranked win at home, and just try to be competitive. Dawkins is a nice, good man. Just don’t embarrass us, please. I’m here for the vibes.
Sytia Messer has our ladies’ basketball team off to a solid start at 9-3, and I like her moxie. A Terry Mohajir hire that looks to be paying off. They started conference play this Wednesday against Oklahoma State in a tight, but competitive loss. She’s seen what excellence looks like in this conference firsthand winning a national championship as an assistant coach under Kim Mulkey at Baylor, and I’m confident she can sell This Place too. I met with Coach Messer at the 2023 Women in Sports Dinner and she is a bona fide source of good energy. There’s a lane she could carve out here, especially with a Big 12 recruiting tag in Central Florida. I have my eye on her for great things.
Our only real consistent killer on campus the last few years has been softball’s Coach “Bear”, Cindy-Ball Malone. This year she gets to host Oklahoma and Texas and I think she will deliver. Eric Lopez, fellow Hijo’s call and passion for the sport captured my interest last year and I hope to make it to some weekend series and support our women’s sports.
The real surprise of 2024 I think will be Rich Wallace and our revamped diamond ball product. He will be our first alumnus head coach of an NCAA-sponsored men’s sport since 1998. There is no reason why we cannot be a powerhouse in baseball. Coastal Carolina has a national championship in baseball! Wallace played for us in the early 2000’s having led us to two ASUN conference tournament championships in ’01 and ’02. There is a spark on the recruiting trail along the high school circuit and I will never bet against a man at his alma mater. (Unless he leaves my alma mater to coach at his own)
We’re awaiting our fall schedule release for the belle that brought us to the Big 12 ball in the coming weeks and I hope fans make plans to attend the Big 12 Basketball tournament in Kansas City in late March. Talking to K-State folks in Orlando for their bowl game, they mentioned that we would love the atmosphere the tournament brings. Have a rolling invite to head to Charlie Hustle HQ too. That is definitely on the radar.
I’m still procrastinating on workflow communication and I just skimmed a superfluous but fun Buzzfeed article on what 2024 is being called, The Year of the Dragon:
As the luckiest of the 12 animals, the dragon is thought to signify unprecedented opportunities. In a dragon year, people are said to be able to harness the creature’s intelligence, leadership and abilities to pursue their dreams with creativity, passion, courage and confidence.
That’s exactly what I plan to do.
Here’s to a fun 2024, with continued good health, renewed focus and living with intention.
Put in your PTO, be excellent in every endeavor and let’s savor the moment.
I hope you’ll continue to enjoy these weekly musings and that we get to enjoy a few surprises, a lot of wins, and some great laughs this coming year through the lens of our passion for UCF.