The first time I walked onto UCF’s campus I was in the 7th grade for an engineering competition geared to giving children STEM exposure. That year I had been selected to work on a group project for the Junior Solar Sprint initiative, effectively having us engineer solar-powered cars to race against other state elementary/middle schools. For what was an involuntary after-school project, we ended up winning first place with our bright yellow Hot-Wheeled flamed speedster. We got a mention in the Orlando Sentinel, a medal, and a couple of brief words in an awards ceremony on the second story of the Student Union. I was voted as a Young Rising Star in the Field of Engineering for Central Florida.
Today I come to you, the furthest thing away from being an engineer J. I am a proud 2009 graduate of the Nicholson School of Communication having majored in Advertising & PR. Since then, I’ve worked as an account executive, campaign manager, writer, and in every capacity an amplifier of ideas. I love getting people excited about notions. That could be selling the group chat on a new brunch spot Sunday morning, or presenting a lucrative pitch to a new client to help grow their business. At my very core, I’m a storyteller. I’ve always enjoyed the spotlight and sharing things I’m passionate about.
A passion for learning and academia has always been at my very core. My mother graduated from the University of Puerto Rico and later moved to Manhattan to procure her Master’s Degree from NYU. There she met my dad who was finishing his undergrad at Manhattan College, both on track to become educators. They dated through the early ’80s, got married, and birthed me onto the scene in 1987. I’ve always loved the energy of a college campus. My sister and I would swim at the local college’s indoor pool, or sit in on lectures for courses as my parents taught. We loved simply listening and being around adults as the only two kids in our family for quite some time.
As I grew older, I developed very bad asthma. My parents with their third child on the way had a decision to make. Were we going to endure another harsh New York winter in the Bronx, or move to a different part of the country? Our family pediatrician offered my parents the two best alternatives: Phoenix or Orlando. I vividly remember my Korean pediatrician since birth, Dr. Lar, telling me: “Charlie Junior, you are going to be leevin’ with Mee-Key!”
Like any kid that moved down to Florida in the mid-nineties, there was a choice to be made as far as collegiate fandom. Were you a Gator or a Nole? I would say the same thing: “I don’t know.” I never really identified with either as my household wasn’t built on a fervor for sports. I was born in the Bronx so my birthright team will always be the New York Yankees. I chose the Giants, as that is the natural pairing of upper-echelon New York sports teams. Every kid in Orlando loved the Magic and that became my NBA team. As far as collegiate allegiances, I remained a free agent of the Sunshine State. It was kind of nebulous and I had no strong affinity. Didn’t even really understand football to be completely honest.
I started at UCF during my freshman year in the fall of 2005. Had a great opportunity with scholarships to stay closer to home, and the promise from my parents that I could study abroad at some point, if I took care of business my first two years. I quickly learned which kids on campus identified as Gators or Noles. There I was with my generic UCF block letter t-shirt, bought at the CB&S bookstore across campus, wondering why I saw a handful of dopes not repping the place they were at NOW. It bothered me more than it should. I never fully understood it. I still don’t. I was a great student. Actively engaged, as an ambassador for my city to those students who didn’t already call Orlando home. There was always a little part missing though. I never really fulfilled the athletic side of the collegiate experience. I grew into that with UCF.
When we first moved to down to Florida, we lived in an apartment in Kissimmee for the first few years. I remember going to an Osceola High School Kowboys football game for Homecoming. One of the first schools my dad was a dean at in Florida. It was my first exposure to live football and I became enthralled with the passion and energy exhibited for a seemingly meaningless game that proved a lot at stake for those that cherished it.
I didn’t get that feeling again until much later in life, seeing Kevin Smith reel off an 80-yard touchdown in the first 20 seconds of play from the line of scrimmage against NC State. Carter-Finley Stadium went silent. That communal ‘what-the-f__ just happened?” reaction paired with a surge of energy from my surrounding cohorts is something I could have not ever imagined. It was all I needed to get hooked. This was MY SCHOOL. MY TEAM. MY STORY.
Hours before that game, junior year underage ‘Me’ was pregaming Coors Light and peach moonshine in Raleigh, NC in anticipation of UCF Football taking on the big, bad BCS school NC State Wolfpack. The roommates and I had decided to take the trek as a bonding experience for the year ahead. I missed my uncle’s second marriage wedding on this trip. Background noise had ESPN going on about how Appalachian State had defeated the Michigan Wolverines in the Big House. At the time, one of the biggest upsets in college football history. I remember thinking, “Why not us?” I loved being the underdog. The one who surprises. The one who is underestimated and shines regardless. We’ve come a long way since then, and the fact that many of us built on that moment to what we are now, is very special.
My UCF origin isn’t some Hollywood story book or a great legacy story. It’s having found my people and my community through shared experiences and a core DNA that defines us all. Weirdly UCF engineered a new fan in me mirroring what I love about myself: hardworking, a little bit of new money, not taking yourself too seriously, and while not having been here a long time, always being down for a good time.
When Adam asked if I could provide some content for the site I jumped at the opportunity. You’ve seen my Dungeon posts, silly memes, or the occasional Twitter clap back. I love my school and I am a fanatic about our sports teams. As a Son/Hijo of UCF, I bleed black and gold. This institution has given me and my family so much over the years, and I love everything about our community.
This column is going to be a little different from what you’re used to. You have plenty of places to get a softball box score, gameday uniform critiques, or the day’s pressing opinion on anything UCF Athletics. I mean, how many more podcasts do you really need? (kidding… sort of) My scope is going to be a little more. UCF obviously, but also some Big 12 conference lore, the collegiate sports landscape at large, and whatever the Zeitgeist blesses us on any given week. This is a place for a little tomfoolery as well as introspection when needed. Insights you may have not seen or shining a light on a topic that is a bit underserved.
There are no rules. Controlled chaos. I will strive to be as entertaining, thoughtful, and FUN as possible. Think Mister Rogers Neighborhood sprinkled in with a Jerry Springer’s Final Thought segment, all filtered through a black and gold lens. I hope you’ll take the time to read, enjoy, laugh at, and share my thoughts whenever I bring you the Lowdown.
I’m excited about the platform and I hope you are too.
‘Til next time, take care of yourselves and each other.