Bragging rights: UF players 'pumped up' for Gasparilla Bowl matchup with Central Florida

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
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The Florida football team arrived in Tampa on Monday for its Gasparilla Bowl matchup against Central Florida. 

Kickoff is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. on ESPN at Raymond James Stadium, where the Gators (6-6) have already played once this season. They won at USF, 42-20, on Sept. 11. 

Florida Gators interim head coach Greg Knox arrives in Tampa Monday for the 2021 Gasparilla Bowl on Thursday against Central Florida. [Vinny Nardella / UAA]

“We’re honored to be here,” UF interim coach Greg Knox said Monday night at the team hotel. “Really thankful to the Gasparilla Bowl staff and everything they're doing. It’s an exciting time for us. We look forward to this opportunity to be here and to play this game.”

UCF finished 8-4 in its first year under Gus Malzahn, the former coach at Auburn. The Gators and Knights haven’t faced each other in 15 years. 

“Once the game was announced,” Knox said of his players’ reaction, “they get to play against guys they already know. They played against them in high school or played with them in high school. So, as we went over UCF’s roster, guys said, ‘Yeah, I know this guy, know that guy, know them.’ So they're familiar with them.”

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Between both rosters, a combined 135 players (73 UF, 62 UCF) are from the state of Florida. Gators defensive tackle Gervon Dexter and UCF running back Johnny Richardson both were teammates at Lake Wales High School, helping lead the team to the 2019 FHSAA Class 5A Regional and a 12-1 record. 

Florida running back Malik Davis (20) runs past Florida State defensive back Jarvis Brownlee Jr. during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Nov. 27, 2021, in Gainesville. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

“We’re definitely pumped up,” UF tailback Malik Davis said of the matchup with the Knights. “That’s what makes it more exciting. Everybody wants to talk about who’s the best team (in the state). UCF is a team who’s been playing well over the past few years. So, it'll be a good game. 

“They're not in our conference, so we’re hyped up to play against them. I know they’re hyped up against us, too.”

Gators cornerback Kaiir Elam

Gators cornerback Kaiir Elam was asked Monday night what a win over UCF would mean for the program.

“It would mean, shoot, we’re the best team in Florida, honestly,” Elam responded. “That's what the game would mean.”

Florida Gators cornerback Kaiir Elam (5) tackles Samford Bulldogs wide receiver Ty King (12) Nov. 13, in Gainesville, during the first half of action. [Doug Engle/Ocala Star-Banner]

The Knights are the fourth in-state team on UF’s schedule this season after wins over Florida Atlantic, USF and Florida State, which beat Miami on Nov. 13. 

Thursday will be the third meeting between Florida and UCF. The Gators won the previous two games in 2006 (42-0) and 1999 (58-27), both in Gainesville.

“This is a big game for us,” Knox said. “Our kids are approaching it that way, and they're excited about playing this game. We had a great talk (Monday) after our last practice in 'The Swamp,' and our guys are really, really excited about being here.”

Preparing the team for a game during a coaching transition is no easy task, but Knox has experience with this situation after leading Mississippi State to a bowl win in 2017. He commended the UF players for how they have handled everything. 

“Our guys have done well with that,” he said. “The last couple of days have been kind of tough on them because of some things they had to do for the new staff and things we’re asking them to do to get ready for this bowl game. But other than that, I think the kids have handled it very well. And now just getting to the bowl site, I think they can relax and get ready to play a game.”

Gasparilla Bowl

Who: Florida (6-6) vs. UCF (8-4)

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

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