A winning football program begins with the players. More specifically, a balanced roster with talent for each position. When UCF Head Football Coach Gus Malzahn took over in Orlando, the roster certainly possessed a lot of talent, but the recruiting numbers for the offensive line were not ideal, at least not during the past two recruiting classes.
The challenge for the class of 2022 will be maximizing high school talent while also considering bringing in transfers, whether it be junior college, graduate transfers, or players that simply want to finish their education at UCF after beginning at another college or university. Here’s a look at where UCF Football Offensive Line Coach Herb Hand and the Knights stand based on the past two recruiting classes, and where the 2022 additions need to be to balance the depth chart.
Here's the podcast discussing UCF offensive line recruiting for anyone that wants to know more about where UCF stands and what their options are:
2020 UCF Offensive Line Recruiting Class - Current listed weight per UCF Football Roster
Paul Rubelt, 6’10”, 330-pounds, Frankfurt-Oder (Germany) Frankfurt-Oder
Mike Lofton, 6’2”, 300-pounds, Clearwater (Fla.) Calvary Christian
Patrick Barnett, 6’6”, 300-pounds, Key West (Fla.) High School
This group is unique. Barnett redshirted last season, so there’s very little known about where he stands with the team. He possesses a tackle frame, and he could be a vital component to the future of the offensive line. During fall camp, it will be interesting to see if he can handle matchups with players like Big Kat Bryant or Tre’mon Morris-Brash.
Rubert is now listed at 330-pounds. That’s a big jump from his incoming weight of 285-pounds. After playing in Germany, there was little known about Rubert. During the 2020 season he did, however, play in nine games. Getting acclimated to the level of competition that quickly bodes well for this extremely tall offensive tackle.
Lofton also earned playing time during his freshman campaign, playing in eight games. A player that could be a guard or center, Lofton will likely stay along the interior for the Knights moving forward.
Overall, this class is one that will be very important for the Knights beyond the 2021 season. UCF will lose several players to graduation, and there’s also the possibility of players simply not panning out, being injured, etc.
2021 UCF Offensive Line Recruiting Class
Ethan Mort, Offensive Tackle, 6’6” 280-pounds, Venice (Fla.) High School
Leander Wiegand, Offensive Tackle, 6’5”, 290-pounds, Berlin (Germany) AFC Aachen
Watching Mort’s senior film displayed an impressive prospect. He’s a capable blocker when in pass protection or when he needs to run block. Most importantly, Mort can move his feet in space; he will not be overwhelmed with smaller players due to their speed. From the past two recruiting classes, Mort might be the most likely left tackle candidate from the group.
Wiegand was the second UCF offensive line recruit after Rubert the year before. He’s a highly trained athlete that possesses very quick feet. Now the question becomes, how does this young man adjust to life in America and the speed of Division I football? Here’s a look at Wiegand’s training while in Germany.
2022 UCF Football Commitments
Kaden Kitler, Center/Offensive Guard, 6’3”, 300-pounds, The Colony (Texas) John Paul II
Miguel Maldonado, Offensive Tackle, 6’6”, 300-pounds, Lakeland (Fla.) High School
Kitler is similar to Lofton in that he could play the pivot and snap the football or be an offensive guard. He’s really quick. In fact, he played offensive tackle for John Paull II this past season.
Maldonado is a basketball transplant to football. Excellent quickness for a massive young player, and he’s just now learning the nuances of technique. From a physical standpoint, he’s capable of taking on college defensive linemen today. From a technique and experience point of view, it will be an adjustment for the Lakeland standout to be ready to take on true edge rushers at the Division I level. His upside is through the roof. Now, he needs to work his craft to be ready to play big-time college football sooner than later.
How Many High School Recruits to Finish the 2022 Class?
This is where the water becomes murky. With a combined five offensive line recruits from the prior two classes, UCF stands at a low numbers disadvantage. A college football roster needs 14 if not 15 offensive linemen to be consistently successful. It can work with fewer numbers, but offensive linemen often take longer to develop so there’s a need for numbers so that several players reach a level of development that allows them to play.
With Kitler and Maldonado in the fold, another high school player, perhaps two, seems to be in order. Depending on how the transfer numbers work out, a third and possibly even a fourth high school offensive lineman could be needed to help restore more traditional numbers to the roster.
Junior college, graduate transfers, and players that want to simply switch over to UCF from another school could all be in play. The best situation would see a couple of transfers from this group because it provides more experience for the Knights and what appears to be a thinning 2022 offensive line depth chart.
Potentially speaking, with two transfers combined with three high school offensive line recruits, the Knights could be in good shape moving forward. The upperclassmen added to the roster from the transfers would help make up for past classes with low offensive line recruiting numbers, while the incoming freshmen would start a new pattern to work with future recruiting classes in 2023 and 2024.
One Key High School Target, More Prospects will Emerge
UCF really wants to sign Leyton Nelson from Orlando (Fla.) Boone. The 2022 recruit is 6’6”, 285-pounds, and he’s capable of playing either tackle position. Since he’s a local recruit, that adds to the allure of signing Nelson.
The Knights want a roster to be much more homegrown than what the previous staff accomplished; Nelson would be an excellent step in that direction. As of now, Florida appears to be UCF’s biggest competition, with Louisville, Utah, Miami and Pittsburgh being the other schools that Nelson used an official visit. You can read the interview about Nelson from this past weekend here: Interview with Top UCF Football Recruit Leyton Nelson.
UCF offered several other players along the offensive line, but there’s no specific player or players that one should say UCF will sign or is definitely the leader for his talents. Look for a few official visits to take place during the regular season as UCF attempts to bolster its offensive line for future years.