ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Blake Bortles arrived at UCF as a virtual unknown quarterback with modest expectations. Running back Storm Johnson was a transfer looking for a new start.
Both are heading to the NFL after leading to the Knights to the most successful campaign in program history.
The players announced Monday that they will skip their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft.
“After a lot of deliberations and talking with my parents, I’ve decided to try and pursue my goal to playing the NFL and capture my lifelong dream,”Bortles said. “I just couldn’t be more proud to say I played football at UCF and it was the best four years of my life.”
In his second year as the Knights’ starter, Bortles helped UCF bounce back from a narrow early season loss to South Carolina to win end the season on a nine-game winning streak and upset win over heavily favored Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
Bortles was a constant throughout UCF’s run to its first BCS bowl, helping the Knights survive in seven games decided by seven or few points. It included a 21-point comeback in an upset win over then-top 10 ranked Louisville. The 12-1 record was a program best.
He finished 2013 passing for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns. The season followed a sophomore campaign in which he tossed 25 touchdowns and threw for more 3,059 yards.
Johnson, who transferred from Miami after his freshman season in 2010 and after sitting out in 2011 spent his first year at UCF in 2012 backing up Latavius Murray. He was then elevated to the starting job as a junior this season and finished with 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also had three touchdowns in the Baylor win.
“This was a tough journey for me and I’m just super proud to have the support of coach (George) O’Leary and the coaching staff,” Johnson said. “It was a hard decision, but I had to make the best decision for me.”
Bortles sought a rating from the NFL Draft Advisory Board and reportedly received a first-round grade. Several analysts project him as one of the top three quarterbacks available in the draft.
Daunte Culpepper is UCF’s highest-ever draft pick, having been taken 11th overall in 1999.
UCF offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said recently that he saw Bortles’ potential very early on.
“I told Blake when I first started coaching him that ‘You have got the ability, physical abilities for what they are looking for (in the NFL). You’ve got the talent to eventually take it to that level. It’s up to you as far as your commitment and what you put into it,'” Taaffe said. “And, you know, he’s been fantastic. Seeing him grow over these three years, and develop and mature really into a guy who gets it now about what commitment it takes.”
Not heavily recruited coming out of nearby Oviedo High School, Bortles redshirted his freshman year in 2010 and was Jeff Godfrey’s backup as a redshirt freshman in 2011.
Godfrey initially flourished and was named Conference USA Freshman of the Year in 2010 in leading the Knights to an 11-3 finish and Liberty Bowl win over Georgia. But he struggled during a 5-7 season in 2011 that saw Bortles appear in 10 games.
Godfrey briefly left the team following that season and Bortles moved into the starting role. Godfrey later returned to the program as a receiver, withBortles having cemented his place as the starter at quarterback by then.
Almost from the start of his starting tenure O’Leary lauded Bortles’ poise under pressure and ability to move on after mistakes. It is a characteristic that O’Leary said only continued to grow this season.
Bortles’ departure leaves a huge hole the Knights’ offense, though they lose only seven scholarship seniors from this year’s roster.
Both quarterbacks behind Bortles on the Knights roster — Justin Holman and Pete DiNovo — are both freshmen.
Another freshman, William Stanback, is Johnson’s likely replacement in the backfield in 2014.
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