ORLANDO - Where would UCF be without the services of Isaiah Bowser at running back? How about Bryson Armstrong at the Knight position?
When UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn took over in Orlando, he did so with the mission to recruit Florida. That’s come to fruition with nine of the 12 commitments coming from Florida. What Coach Malzahn also mentioned doing, and it’s worked well, would be bringing in transfers from the portal.
It’s never an easy projection when players transfer. There are questions about what happened at the last school, and how the new player will fit in the locker room. While legitimate questions, UCF and the transfer portal proved to be a highly successful combination through six games of the 2021 season.
Here’s a look at eight of the 2021 transfers that continue to make an impact for the Knights, and how their success will likely lead to UCF taking a similar path with recruiting the transfer portal moving forward.
Offensive players first, and then defensive players.
Isaiah Bowser, Running Back, Northwestern
With a debut that included 33 carries for 172 yards and one touchdown, plus four receptions for 29 yards, Bowser and his 6’1”, 225 pound frame provided the immediate impact from the transfer portal that UCF desired.
Although banged up during the Louisville game and just now starting to get healthy, Bowser accumulated the following statistics: 64 carries, 295 yards, 4.6 average, and six touchdowns. He’s also contributed five receptions for 33 yards. There’s another category that cannot be measured either.
Now that there’s a freshman signal caller in the backfield, Bowser will be able to help him while on the field, as well as on the sidelines, discussing pass protections and anything else quarterback Mikey Keene might lean on the experienced Bowser for guidance.
Mark Antony-Richards, Running Back, Auburn
Antony-Richards made the game-winning plunge into the endzone versus East Carolina, securing a 20-16 victory for the Knights. The 6’1”, 215 pound bruiser continues to see more action during the last few games, and he’s likely next in line to be a featured runner for the Knights once Bowser heads off to the NFL after the 2021 season.
With Antony-Richards just receiving 11 carries for 84 yards thus far, he will need to see more opportunities to run the football before a true evaluation can take place. With that limited sample size, he’s still shown much promise, as his 7.6 yards per carry average already indicated.
Further, his fourth down reception and run versus East Carolina kept the Knights alive during that dramatic final drive that eventually allowed himself to score the winning touchdown. Antony-Richards proved to be clutch. This running back has a bright future at UCF.
Brandon Johnson, Wide Receiver, Tennessee
Leading the team in touchdown receptions with six, the 6’2”, 195 pound Johnson makes big plays. He’s also been able to consistently be a part of the wide receiver core, starting each game in 2021.
With 21 receptions for 249 yards and an 11.9 average, Johnson provided the big outside receiver that complements wide receivers like Ryan O’Keefe, Jaylon Robinson and Amari Johnson.
With Robinson still out of the lineup, there will be opportunities for Johnson to make more big plays in the near future, and it’s not just by catching the football. This veteran understands that blocking during a screen play for his teammates, like O’Keefe or running back Johnny Richardson, can be the difference between a two-yard gain or a 50-yard gain.
Nate Craig-Myers, Wide Receiver, Colorado State/Auburn
While catching just one pass so far this season for 18 yards, Craig-Myers has helped with being a player that blocks on those same screens that were mentioned with Johnson. A true role player, the 6’2”, 205 pound Craig-Myers established himself in the rotation with selflessness.
Bryson Armstrong, Knight, Kennesaw State
After playing at the FCS level, many people were intrigued by Armstrong and what position(s) he might play. He’s been placed at the Knight position, which is a combination of a safety and linebacker that often plays over a slot receiver. The 5’11”, 210 pound transfer adjusted very well.
He’s accumulated 53 tackles, which leads the Knights, and also added 1.5 tackles for loss, a pass breakup, and a quarterback hurry. His best plays often result from when nobody discussed his results.
Armstrong plays in coverage against some of the best athletes on the field, so his efforts are often most valuable when he’s not mentioned by the public address announcer because the opposing quarterback did not throw his way. Armstrong would likely be the transfer MVP if there were such an award.
Ricky Barber, Defensive Tackle, Western Kentucky
Perhaps the best way to define Barber’s talent and value to UCF would be when he’s not in the game. UCF’s rushing defense suffered mightily since he left the lineup against Louisville. In short, there’s not an easy way to replace his 6’2”, 290 pound frame and athleticism.
Despite missing the majority of three games in 2021, Barber still made an impact beyond his eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one quarterback hurry, and one pass broken up. The UCF defense needs an interior defensive lineman that takes on double teams to help free up the linebackers, and that’s often been Barber.
His power and athleticism allow him to create opportunities for several UCF players, and that’s also a big reason that the Knights really need Barber to be back in the lineup this Friday against Memphis.
Big Kat Bryant, Defensive End, Auburn
Bryant came to UCF as a transfer that could have gone just about any college football program he desired to play his last year of eligibility. With his familiarity with the UCF coaches that came over from Auburn, he decided to be a Knight.
He started each of the six games, tallying 22 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, six quarterback hurries and one pass broken up. The 6’5”, 245 pound Bryant will be relied upon even more during the final six games with Kalia Davis out of the lineup for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
Marco Domio, Cornerback, Auburn
The fourth former Auburn Tiger that’s playing for UCF, Domio has been a part of the rotation at cornerback for the majority of the 2021 season. The 6’1”, 185 pound talent is an experienced veteran at a position that’s full of youth for the Knights, with a true freshman and three sophomores being the other prime cornerbacks in the rotation for UCF this season.
Domio produced four tackles and one pass breakup this season. Look for him to continue to be a part of the cornerback rotation through the final six games of the 2021 season.
A Start to the 2022 class of Transfers
UCF’s success continued with the announcement of offensive lineman Bless Harris that he would be coming to UCF. The former New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine player originally signed and played for Lamar, a school in Texas.
The majority of UCF’s transfers played significant minutes this season, and there’s still plenty of time for additional transfers to make their mark. Considering the commitment of the aforementioned Harris along the offensive line, the evidence supports UCF once again using the transfer portal to help fill its 2022 roster, and perhaps several rosters thereafter.
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