ORLANDO - The University of Central Florida hosted their Athletics Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony Friday night at The Celeste hotel on campus. Which is where five former UCF athletes got to celebrate all of their accomplishments and culminate their journey in Orlando.
Blake Bortles, Football (2010-2014), Afia Charles, Track & Field (2011-2014), Natalie Land, Softball (2009-2012), Josh Sitton, Football (2004-2007), and Jermaine Taylor, Basketball (2005-2009) made up the extremely talented class that stretched through ten years of UCF athletics.
Bortles opened his media availability talking about what it’s like to be inducted into the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame, “It’s awesome. It’s an incredible group of people who are in the UCF Hall of Fame, so to be honored in that way, it’s the highest possible honor, and I’m grateful.”
Bortles was just a local kid from just down the road at Oviedo High School, when former UCF Head Coach George O’Leary offered him the chance to play quarterback at the collegiate level. Bortles repaid O’Leary’s faith in him as he helped to establish UCF as a national brand, leading UCF to an improbable win over Baylor during the Jan. 1, 2014 Fiesta Bowl. For the 2013 season, Bortles threw for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Bortles went on to be drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars third overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, and as the first quarterback selected, being picked above the likes of Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater. Bortles went on to start 73 games with the Jaguars, nearly making it to the Super Bowl in 2017 with heroic performances in a playoff run nobody saw coming. After he was waived by the team following a bad 2018 campaign for the franchise he has bounced around a little bit, playing for the Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos, as well as having a stint as the Packer’s presumptive starting quarterback when Aaron Rodgers was away from the team this past offseason, before being cut when Rodger returned.
Another Knight that established UCF as a national brand, this time in track & field would be Charles. Charles arrived on campus in 2011 from Greenbelt, Maryland and she immediately shot onto the scene. She was named an All-American in the 4x100 indoor relay event, before getting the ultimate honor. At the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Charles represented Antigua & Barbuda in the 400 meters, becoming the first UCF student athlete to be an Olympian.
When she returned she continued to run at an elite level, earning two more All-American honors, as well as setting a UCF record in the 4x400 meter relay with a 3:32.59 time.
She was the star of the UCF 2013 outdoor track team that ranked fifth in the entire country after she led an impressive relay team to a second place finish. Charles might eventually have some competition as the greatest UCF track star of all-time as current UCF track athlete Rayniah Jones looks to follow in her footsteps, just missing out on this year’s Olympic Games.
Land played second base for the Knights. She joined both Bortles and Charles who she shared her time at UCF with. Land was an all-around elite player for the UCF softball program in the early 2010s, ranking second all time in stolen bases, fourth in runs scored, and sixth in hitting percentage.
During her time with the Knights she was named All-Conference USA three times and led UCF to two NCAA softball playoffs, both resulting in defeats to Florida at the super regional stage. After her career at UCF she went on to play for the United States softball team, and was asked about the growth of the sport at a professional level.
“I think that softball is growing, a lot of people love watching the College World Series, and a lot of excitement is growing around softball. So I think the pro sport side of softball can only grow.”
One of the cornerstone pieces of UCF football after the arrival of Coach O’Leary was a beastly offensive lineman, who arrived from Pensacola, Florida. He was a four-year starter for UCF. Sitton helped elevate the team from winless during his freshman campaign to a conference championship as a senior.
Sitton was crucial as a blocker for running back Kevin Smith who rushed for 2,567 yards during the 2007 campaign. He talked about how he was actually recruited as a defensive lineman but switched over to offense quickly, “They (UCF) recruited me to play defensive line, and I really wanted to play defensive line. But, that only lasted one day of training camp, and thank God because that worked out.”
That it did, as Sitton went on to be drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft, getting to block for legendary quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. He made four Pro Bowls during his time with the Packers, winning a Super Bowl with the team. He also awarded second team all-decade team for the 2010’s by PFF, after he finished his career with the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins.
The last, but certainly not least, induction in the Hall of Fame Class of 2021 was arguably the greatest basketball player to play for UCF. Taylor, an All-American third team player as a senior, when he averaged 26.2 points per game, good enough for third in the nation, rounded out the supremely talented class.
Taylor finished his UCF career with 1,979 points, the most in the Division I era for the Knights. He was selected 32nd overall in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards. After plying his trade for the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings, the talented guard has moved around in China, the Dominican Republic, Europe, G-League, and New Zealand, now landing himself as a star in the Big 3 League.